NATION

Gucake Completes Labasa Tour

The acting Permanent Secretary for Sugar, Viliame Gucake, yesterday completed his three-day tour of Labasa. Yesterday he visited two sugarcane farms – Seaqaqa and another at Nagigi, before visiting the
19 Sep 2015 10:48
Gucake Completes Labasa Tour
The acting Permanent Secretary for Sugar Viliame Gucake talks about the sugar industry and future plans at Takia Hotel conference room on Friday. Photo: Shratika Naidu

The acting Permanent Secretary for Sugar, Viliame Gucake, yesterday completed his three-day tour of Labasa.

Yesterday he visited two sugarcane farms – Seaqaqa and another at Nagigi, before visiting the Labasa Mill and  Malau Wharf.

Mr Gucake also met sugarcane growers in Waiqele about the cane access road maintenance.

He said the tour was productive and he was impressed with the mill operation.

 

Inspection of cane
access road in Labasa

A team appointed by Mr Gucake will work with the Cane Access Road Committee to monitor road maintenance done by contractors.

“Farmers complained that one of the contractors dumped gravel on one of the roads and left without any proper work,” Mr Gucake said.

He said cane lorry drivers using the road complained that their trucks were damaged because of the poor condition of the road.

“I told my team to assess the performance of the contractors during their daily monitoring programmes so that we can avoid such problems faced by the farmers,” Mr Gucake said.

He said rehabilitation and repairs of cane access roads had started.

“We have given out purchase orders, but the contractors were engaged in their other projects and so they could not start as we planned,” Mr Gucake said.

“Some contractors were willing to return the purchase order because they knew they would be very busy in their own projects, but we told them that we would wait,” Mr Gucake explained.

He said in Rakiraki, Ra, there were two fixed contractors who work on cane access roads.

“We have no choice, but to work with them and maintain good relations.

“In Viti Levu the maintenance work on cane access roads has been done by my team consisting of one accountant, one economist plus FSC officials,” he added.

He said the maintenance work took two weeks.

“There is a requirement by auditors, both internally and externally, to monitor on all related work on cane access roads and file reports,” Mr Gucake said.

He explained the internal was from Ministry of Finance and external was from office of Auditor-General.

“Now they are very vocal and effective in the sense that whatever submission was made at the Public Accounts Committee people were taken to task if they fail to comply with the standard of procedures,” Mr Gucake said.

“As soon as the Minister of Finance announces the National Budget for 2016, which will be in November 6, we will do the logistics like invitation for expression of interest for contractors.

“Early next year we will submit Request for Incur Expenditure (RIE) to Ministry of Finance so that we can get our money early to start with the work of cane access road,” he said.

 

Progress on
GIS project

Mr Gucake said the ministry was trying to digitise all the cane farms relative to the mills.

In Vanua Levu there are 10 sectors.

“Digitise means FSC takes stock of the boundaries of each lease and cane contractor and they find out how much of the area is under cane for different stages,” Mr Gucake said.

He said FSC calculated the variety of cane in each block and area of land that was not planted with cane or vegetables.

“The good thing about this project is that it captures the estimation of the area under cane and the crop that is under cane in terms of yield of tonnes,’ Mr Gucake said.

He said it was much more accurate than the visible estimate that used to be done by the field officers.

“It is amazing during the crushing season they can give you a live run as to how much estimate of cane has been harvested and how much is still standing,” Mr Gucake said.

He said that was why it was launched by the Prime Minister in 2013.

“The current manager is Vasiti Soko who is spearheading this project,” Mr Gucake said.

He said she was qualified and has passion for this project.

“As part of the pilot project Labasa was chosen and they did only three sectors so the remaining sectors will be done this year,” Mr Gucake said.

He said he had a meeting with Labasa Mill general manager Karia Christopher that Labasa farms would be the first to participate in this project before it goes to Viti Levu.

“Labasa was chosen for two reasons to pilot this project,” Mr Gucake said.

“Mainly because of the cogeneration of 10 megawatt project and secondly the Government is planning to install a sugar refining factory in Labasa in future,” he added.

Mr Gucake explained that when this project was implemented the sectors had to be merged.

“In 1997 there were 38 sectors and from 2013 it has been reduced to 23 or 26,” Mr Gucake said.

He said there were other contributing factors such as expiring of land lease and education in the sugar price that led to the merger of sectors.

“In each sector there are three people managing the office as this is how it has been structured,” Mr Gucake said.

 

Plan for a sugar
refining factory in
Labasa

 

Mr Gucake confirmed that this plan was on the horizon and the FSC executive chairmanAbdul Khan was working on a plan for a sugar refining factory in Labasa.

“During our visit to London, the Prime Minister called us from Fiji to meet the High Commissioner and have discussion on sugar refining factory,” Mr Gucake said.

“PM said as part of the Look North Policy, he wanted a sugar refining factory in Labasa,” he added.

Mr Gucake said that was the mandate that he was working on.

 

Labour shortage for harvesting sugar cane is
Fiji-wide problem.

Mr Gucake said labour scarcity in sugar cane farming area is everywhere in Fiji.

“I have been told that Labasa Mill can crush up to 2.2 million tonnes,” Mr Gucake said.

“However, in the last two years it is less than half of this amount,” he added.

“The challenging scarcity of labourers when it comes to harvesting is also faced in Viti Levu,” Mr Gucake said.

He said that was why they have encouraged those who can invest in the purchase of procument of mechanical harvester to do so.

“According to Cane Growers Council the area that is flat and rolling is where the mechanical harvester can work; they say we need 26 harvesters,” Mr Gucake said.

“However, at the moment they have 15 harvesters,” he added.

“The high cost of harvesting even in the other African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) sugar producing countries it is a common challenge,” Mr Gucake explained.

He said sugarcane farming was no longer attractive to young generation.

“Maybe because they do not want to dirty their hands and do not want to face the problems their parents have gone through in the past,” Mr Gucake said.

He said in the Pacific, Fiji is the only country that produces and exports sugar to Europe Union.

 

Engagement of Inmates have eased labour shortage problem over the years

 

The engaging of inmates to harvest canes has enabled many farmers to supply canes to the mill during the crushing season says Mr Gucake.

“I know the growers who engaged them are happy because they can pay whatever amounts they want to I guess like $17 a tonne,” Mr Gucake said.

“And these inmates come on time and they cut cane right from the base nicely because they have been disciplined to do so,” he added.

“I have met two farmers in Labasa who said it was better to engage inmates because the labourers demand pay upfront and once paid they do not turn up on time for harvesting,” Mr Gucake said.

He was also told that young men were choosing employment in road construction and other small existing industries

“These are some of things I got to hear from the farmers during my visit and I have fair ideas how challenges can be addressed,” he added.

He said the ministry had been working closely with other institution and they are all aware of the labour shortage.

“Even Mr Christopher is concerned about this and he has shared with me, however, there is no magical answer to this right now,” Mr Gucake said.

Feedback:  shratikan@fijisun.com.fj

 



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