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Editorial: Changes Indicate Better Days are Coming in Sugar Industry

The $10 million subsidy for cane farmers announced by Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday is a great relief for them. It coincides with his announcement of the fourth cane
16 May 2017 11:00
Editorial: Changes Indicate Better Days are Coming in Sugar Industry
Cane transported to the Labasa mill

The $10 million subsidy for cane farmers announced by Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday is a great relief for them.

It coincides with his announcement of the fourth cane payment of $10.57 for the 2016 crop. It takes the total cane payment of 2016 to $72.41.

This Friday all cane farmers will share $14.57 million. But from that figure $6.7 million was to be deducted from cane farmers for respective payments they have to make to organisations like iTaukei Land Trust Board, Fiji Development Bank, South Pacific Fertilizers and others.

A group of farmers who suffered from the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston each took out a $1000 loan amounting to more than $3m. They do not have to pay this back to the Sugar Cane Growers Fund.

This means that no money will be deducted and they will receive their full cane payment. It also means they have more money in the pocket to spend for cane planting and for other personal needs.

It comes from a responsive Government that understands the hardship the farmers face and steps in to help alleviate their concerns. It also shows the confidence that the Government has in investing in the sugar industry.

This is in addition to Government’s earlier assistance to support the industry. It demonstrates the economy’s buoyancy and Government’s prudent financial management. It would not have spent this amount if it knew it would not benefit the industry and the economy as a whole.

Government has hardly responded to Opposition politicians criticising it’s sugar industry performance.

But yesterday’s announcement is tangible evidence that Government is aware of the farmers’ plight and has quietly worked behind the scenes to come up with a solution to help relieve their pressures.

As the economy continues to grow so is Government’s capacity to deal with issues as they arise. The cane payment subsidy is a case in point. But our economic future, as Mr Sayed-Khaiyum alluded to yesterday, depends very much on climate change.

God forbid that we have another cyclone this year. Tropical Cyclone Ella showed that we could be visited by wild weather events any time this year, not only during the cyclone season.

Our sugar industry and the agricultural sector in general depends on favourable weather. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum also announced yesterday that there were plans to revamp the sugar industry which had suffered from years of neglect. There is real need to revitalise the industry to attract the younger generation which at the moment is focused on other disciplines.

The agricultural courses at tertiary institutions are offering a lifeline. They are looking at farming from a professional and commercial perspective. Efficiency and modern methods based on best international practices would increase yield and get the best returns. That, hopefully, would in turn lure our younger folks back into farming.

One of the realities of farming today is that lifestyles have changed as demographics change. There was a time when cane cutting as a seasonal occupation was sought after by those in rural communities. Not anymore. It is seen as no longer fashionable today.

That’s why we have seen the introduction of Corrections inmates in the cane fields to help cut cane during the harvesting season. They are part of the changing dynamics in the cane fields.

Then we have the cane rail system which has become a casualty of the years of neglect. That too needs a revamp.

With a new team now heading the  Fiji Sugar Corporation and the backing of Government, there are already indications that better days are coming.

NEMANI DELAIBATIKI

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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