SUNBIZ

Radical Thinking Needed For Sugar Industry

  Fiji Sugar Corporation Chief Executive Officer Graham Clark said stakeholders needed to do some radical thinking if they were to reduce individual costs and improve the industry. Farmers advised
15 Jan 2019 10:00
Radical Thinking Needed For Sugar Industry
Sugar cane farmers attending the Sugarcane Growers Consultation at the Penang Mill Hall, Rakiraki on January 14, 2019. Photo: Charles Chambers

 

Fiji Sugar Corporation Chief Executive Officer Graham Clark said stakeholders needed to do some radical thinking if they were to reduce individual costs and improve the industry.

Farmers advised toward economies of scale

Speaking to farmers at the Sugarcane Growers Consultation on National Sugar Industry Policy at the Penang Mill in Rakiraki yesterday, Mr Clark said there was a need for farmers to go for economies of scale and cost efficiency that came with a larger size.

He said one area where farmers could reduce their costs w was to ban together in share blocks and cooperatives and spread the cost amongst bigger areas and this would lower the costs quite successfully.

“Sitting in isolations in your small farms – you are not going to make any money.”

“But joining together in a block farm with a wider spread of you cost then you are going to make more money.”

“I think we need to think strategically on how we can encourage that and what can we give to increase the size of our farms so that mechanisation is easy and cost comes down.”

He said transport was one of the major costs and what would be done strategically to address that.

“The mechanisation initiative has been quite successful and we are now harvesting 20-35 percent of the crop by machines, but we are running out of flat land.”

Trials to begin this year

He said FSC had found harvesters which can operate in the hill areas.

And was hoping they could bring them into trial this year.

“The technology is different when operating on the slope and on flat land.”

He said the farmers’ main concern was the harvest side where the worry was the labour costs going through the roof.

“We have all avoided and skirted around labour but nobody has mentioned the imported labour scenario.”

“There was some talk a year ago about importing labour. Several sectors in Fiji already have it and this includes construction and the supermarket industry.”

“I have seen Bangladeshis working in supermarkets and other agriculture operations.”

He said Mauritius has the same problem as Fiji and two years ago they had 200 labourers from Bangladesh and that has grown to 1200 this year.

“They have gone a whole scale, they fixed their economy, for the past three years their productivity is high and their problem has been solved.”

“So do we really need to think of that now in effort to improve productivity at the right cost?”

He said the resurrection of the rail system from Rakiraki to Ba was technically feasible.

“We can move cane by rail from here to Ba at $6 a tonne compared to $30 a tonne (by lorry).”

Radical thinking needed

He said that was the type of radical thinking that needed to be addressed.

He said the issue of dumping cane in one location and later transporting it was not a good idea as the dumped cane was usually driven over by trucks and harvesters and got destroyed.

“Elsewhere in the world, loading zones are protected and quality is assured and it can work and why don’t we think of that again.”

Cane proceeds to be paid to farmers within a month

Meanwhile a businessman and farmer George Shiu Raj had suggested that 95 percent of cane proceeds to farmers be paid within a month after harvesting ends.

“The issues around cane payments and problems, complaints and poverty are worse if you pay it all up front and ask the farmers to wait 11 months with no money,” Mr Clark said in reply.

“It does have an advantage though as I have seen it has encouraged farmers to get into alternative income generators.”

“If you make you cane payments upfront and supplement your income with crops at the end of the day you make more money.”

“But it is a complete mindset change and it is good to raise the point as we need to address it and put it in the list of things to do.”

Mr Clark said FSC has 30 percent of its staff allocated to the field work and this amounted to around 600 workers.

Meanwhile on appoint raised that children of cane farmers who had attained degrees in IT opted for other work apart from cane farming, Mr Clark said technology was in the industry already and more could be done.

“We just introduced a new field information system that was funded by the European Union and the power of that technology is incredible.”

“The technology will tell you to the how many kgs’ of fertilizers needed to be used is being used in a certain area and where to actually put it.”

He said this was evident in the United States now where one farmer and his computer looked after 10,000 hectares. He said this was another answer in technology.

“We have seen the people who have been given this technology and have achieved bonuses for productivity.”

On suggestions on payment for cane, Mr Clark said this should be done on the quality of cane and not just the volume.

“For high quality cane you will get paid more, so I think that is the system that we will need to look at quite carefully as well.”

“I am with you 100 percent for the salvation of this industry is in our own hands and we can do it with everybody’s collective approach.”

Feedback: charles.chambers@fijisun.com.fj

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