Careers

Salina’s Determination And Sweet Success

This 37-year-old mother of four from Dreketi, an outpost which marks the Macuata border on Vanua Levu, had no prior knowledge or experience in the sugar industry before taking on the challenge of running her own sugarcane farm.
23 Nov 2019 13:00
Salina’s Determination And Sweet Success
Salina Miller

Salina Miller was a Police officer before taking on the challenge of sugarcane farming in 2018.

This 37-year-old mother of four from Dreketi, an outpost which marks the Macuata border on Vanua Levu, had no prior knowledge or experience in the sugar industry before taking on the challenge of running her own sugarcane farm.

Salina shed the blue uniform for good after the birth of her second child. The young mother realised she had no options for childcare at the time.

“I made the decision to look after my babies,” Salina said.

“My husband was very supportive of my Police career but I just could not go back to work and leave my little ones at home when my second child was born.

“I felt my babies were my greatest assets, so I resigned. Then I had another two children.”

Salina’s husband is from a cattle and rice farming family. As her children grew older, Salina realised she had more time to help with the farm.

“I found the challenge of farming quite exciting,” she said.

About Salina’s lease

It was not long before Salina started wanting her own part of the earth. A lease on a 36-acre parcel of native land in Batiri became available, and she took the plunge.

Salina set about on her experiment with sugar, starting with 10 acres and 10 members of the mataqali from the area.

The scene was set, but Salina tells of a disastrous first season.

“I soon found out it was not all sweet.

“In the beginning it was too difficult. Planting is hard, even just looking for labourers is hard.

“ The entire preparation stage is hard. You have to look for everything you need to start; labourers, seedlings, you name it.”

Salina played a waiting game with the rain, having begun her 2018 planting in the dry season, so it took three months to plant only 10 acres. Six weeks into the season when her cane was thriving, the neighbour’s cattle ate most of the plants.

“I had to file a Police report and took that to the bank where I had taken a loan to lease the land, to ask for a repayment extension,” she explained.

Between her beginners woes, the drought and the thieving cattle, Salina only managed a 40 tonne harvest – not even enough to pay for her bank loan.

“It was a very bad harvest so this year I worked so hard and worked better, and when I harvested just last month I got 250 tonnes – man I was so happy!.

“This year I made money so I am looking forward to making more next year.

“I struggled a lot but I learnt a lot from my first year.”

Salina Miller (fourth from left) with her colleagues at the Sugars of Fiji launch.

Salina Miller (fourth from left) with her colleagues at the Sugars of Fiji launch.

Biggest lesson

The biggest lesson, Salina said, is about timing and accepting that when you’re a farmer, you’re racing against nature and time.

“You have to make sure that at every stage of the sugarcane cycle, you’re prepared.

“There is a time to prepare the land, time to clean the farm, time to plant.

“Once you lose focus or lose sight of your goals, you will get behind and like me in the first year, you will not make anything.”

Despite repeated suggestions to the contrary, Salina insists being a woman did not make sugarcane farming any different for her.

She admits though that having fellow female farmers nearby to ask for advice and gaining the respect of the local landowners early in her sugarcane journey may have helped smoothen her path.

“I’m new to sugarcane farming but I have never had any problems that happen because I’m a woman.I don’t get treated differently and I don’t have any difficulties with the men.

“The labourers treat me like everyone else. I treat them like they are my brothers and sisters and they treat me the same. In fact they respect me.”

That is not to say there were no naysayers because Salina said she did meet her fair share of doubters. People in her community would ask of her family and friends if she would succeed.

“She’s female, she bought sugar cane land. Can she do it?

Can she plant sugar cane? Can she make it? I told them yes I can do it!” Salina affirmed. Luckily my husband always supported me – he is always there behind me.

“Every time there is something to do with farming, he puts me in front, whether it’s for rice or sugarcane, he will push me to the front.

“This is my second year of farming and I love it. This industry will get better.

“We must change our attitude and work hard to make sugarcane growing work for us.

“I know that in the next few years time, I’ll be doing even better.

“I am excited because I know how to do this now, and I can do more for my country too.”

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