#Vote2018 | NEWS

#Vote2018: Farmers’ SWEET JOY

In days gone by sugarcane belts were known as voting blocs for political parties such as Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party. There is no surprise that the focus
01 Apr 2018 12:02
#Vote2018: Farmers’ SWEET JOY
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama with farmers in Ba. Photo: DEPTFO

In days gone by sugarcane belts were known as voting blocs for political parties such as Fiji Labour Party and National Federation Party.

There is no surprise that the focus has once again turned to the sugar industry and there is a lot of talk on what various political parties plan to do for the cane farming community.

A lot of effort has gone into salvaging the industry.

The European Union quota has ended, younger Fijians find white collar jobs more enticing rather than toiling on cane farms, a shortage of cane cutters has also been an issue and the world market price of sugar has played a part in how much our farmers receive.

But, despite all this, our industry has soldiered on.

Farmers have persevered, they have branched out into cultivating other crops, dabbling in livestock farming and aquaculture and very attractive incentives given to them in recent years have resulted in more farmers thinking of investing further in their farms.

FijiFirst has been adamant that Government will continue to give strong support to the sugar industry.

No doubt there will be interest in how the other political parties view the industry and what policies they have for it.

NFP has campaigned on a promise of paying a cane price of $100 per tonne if it comes into power, but has not gone into details such as whether the current subsidies will continue or if an increased cane price will replace current subsidies.

SODELPA has not said a lot about this industry. It has not released any policy about this industry as well.

The most effective way to do that is to make the two parts of that industry — the cane growers and the processors — more efficient and more competitive is by reducing the cost of their inputs.

The most advanced sugar mills in the world are useless without enough high-quality cane at crushing time.

The world’s best canefarmers with the most fertile soil and most advanced techniques will be left high and dry without modern, efficient mills, a strong infrastructure and a lean cost structure.

So if we can reduce costs and improve the efficiency of both parts of our sugar industry, we will thrive even in today’s global market.

Last May, Parliament approved a $202 million Government guarantee to enable Fiji Sugar Corporation to undertake a number of capital projects, including mechanisation, upgrade of the existing rail infrastructure and phased upgrade of all three of our mills.

In the last budget, the Ministry of Sugar was provided a budget of around $60 million, almost double its previous allocation.

Government is increasing the fertiliser subsidy from $14.09 to $25.59 per 50 kg bag at a cost of $15.4 million, an increase of nearly $6 million.

With this assistance, farmers now pay $20 per bag, compared with $31.50 per bag they paid previously.

Government allocated $6.3 million to subsidise the cost of products to control weeds and raise cane yield.

This is the first time such a subsidy is being provided and again it reduces the cost to individual farmers.

There is an increased budget of $15.4 million under the sugarcane development and farmer assistance programme to increase cane replanting and production.

Under this programme, grants are provided to farmers to defray the costs of cane planting on fallow land and for ratoon restoration. With this funding support, Government is expecting 2000 hectares of new cane and more than 9000 hectares of ratoon crop.

Government doubled the allocation to upgrade cane access roads to $6 million. It is to upgrade 3876 km of road, including installation of culverts and maintenance of crossings.

In addition, a sum of $2 million was allocated to improve in-field drainage systems to control water run-off from farms.

Government picks up the cartage costs from Penang to Rarawai to the tune of $5.1 million. No farmer who used to get his cane crushed at Penang Mill and who now uses Rarawai will be out of pocket as far as cartage fees are concerned.

To entice more farmers to plant cane, $5 million has been provided to encourage new sugarcane farming. This package includes funding that will help about 150 new canefarmers enter and remain in the sugar industry.

One other huge cost for farmers is cane cutting itself. The use of mechanised cane harvesters is to not only create efficiency, but to reduce the cost of harvesting.

However, unfortunately, given the dominant position of the suppliers of the harvesters and uncompetitive environment, the cost of harvesting has not necessarily decreased for farmers. Accordingly, government commissioned the Fiji Consumer Competition Commission and the FSC to examine this cost. After extensive consultations and examination and after allowing for a profit of 19 per cent for harvesters the Commerce Commission has determined that no harvester should charge a rate more than $17.50 a tonne.

These are some of the major schemes already in place and a solid counter to this, if any, will be needed from the Opposition.

Edited by Epineri Vula

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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