Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Is Sugar Dying a Slow Death in Fiji?

The Interim Government (IG) is trying to wean the farmers from speaking collectively through their chosen union, whether its the Kisan Sangh, National farmers union, sugar cane growers association. Bainimarama directed FSC to cease the check off system whereby farmers union dues were deducted by FSC and paid to NFU etc. He's going after Chaudhry's power base in the sugar fields and trying to break the farmer's collective voice. EU has given them positive signs that without electios the funds can be released on a humanitarian basis, not least because of Chaudhry's efforts in Brussels. Now Chaudhry has secured that, the IG can break his power base.

Just as NZ has been persuaded by the Fiji NZ Business Council that Fiji cannot be allowed to disintegrate (sa sega na ilavo ni matanitu), neither can the EU stand by and let that happen. The Sugar industry directly and indirectly supports 1/4 of Fiji's population - thats farmers, their families, cane cutters, and the sugar towns - Lautoka, Ba, Rakiraki, Labasa. If the sugar industry continues its slow nosedive, those towns, the supporting retail and industrial businesses, will all die one by one. And this will have a domino effect across the country. Our tourism industry is also in trouble, is the largest earner, but sugar is still the backbone. That argument has been sold to the EU. And Bainimarama's government has let the industry continue to nosedive.

Farmers have lost confidence in the industry. Many who left once their leases expired, are now cash croppers on Viti Levu and cane cutters are now taxi drivers - they dont want to go back to the backbreaking work.

So the meetings FSC, Sugar Ministry and Commissioner Western is having with farmers, is to persuade them to remain in the industry and for the immediate future, accept that govt wants the NFU, SCGA to die.ie no strike by farmers to protest the removal of the cut off.

FSC has a new plan - it will lease land from landowners and create big sugar farms. landowners will then have the option to work on those farms - similar to the CSR days where the indentured labourers worked on farms owned by CSR, the miller. This makes the farmers happy because the previous reform plan was to amalgamate existing small farms and create bigger mechanised sugar farms - which Qarikau/NLTB had proposed in the leadup to the 2000 coup.

Chaudhry has been quiet throughout NLTB's recently stated intention that ALTA was to be scrapped and NLTA was to govern all leases (virtual freehold with 99year leases), including agricultural. The IG knows NFU/FLP has never been in favor of NLTA and removing his NFU powerbase means Chaudhry is occupied with organising how farmers pay their subs directly to NFU, rather than being part of the conversation on sugar/ALTA/NLTA reform. Not that Chaudhry needs the NFU subs or his pension with the $2m from Haryana. But going after Chaudhry is more difficult than going after Qarase because Chaudhry has those NFU canefarmers permanently on-call.

Cawaki after answers

Fiji Times - Tuesday, February 02, 2010

ONLY 2.2 million tonnes of sugarcane was crushed by the four sugar mills in 2009, far below the official national mill capacity.

With the mills' potential to crush 4.2 million tonnes, Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki yesterday sought views from stakeholders at the first consultative meeting in Nadi on how to improve production.

"Sugar has been an issue and little has been made to raise the production. Only 2.2 million tonnes was crushed in 2009 but the four mills have the potential to crush 4.2 million tonnes. So we have to find a solution to get another 2 million tonnes because we can't afford to lose the industry," he said.

"We've told landowners that if they can't plant, lease the land. From the government's perspective, irrespective of who the owner or tenant of the land is, we need to plant more sugarcane," he said.

Commander Cawaki said the Fiji Sugar Corporation was doing its best in restructuring and modernising and that it would improve with time.

"The issue for us is that despite the long crushing season we had this year, there was still not enough cane supplied to the mill. So our issue today (yesterday) is to find a solution and we need to work together and put in a collective effort to improve sugar production," he said.

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