Pal's leap of faith pays off

Picture: Jai Pal (inblue) with his son (right) and labourer on his farm

A sheer leap of faith to move from Labasa to Taveuni was a decision the then 28-year-old Jai Pal does not regret, 23 years later today.

Jai whose farm is in Qila on the Garden Island started from nothing in 1999. Today, he now leases a total of 39 acres of land, built his home worth $150k, bought a vehicle to assist in carting produce from his farm to the buyers, and has also bought a property in Labasa for his children to be accommodated whilst they study.

Starting as a laborer to a farmer in Qila, Ganesh Goundar and Vijay, the former sugarcane farmer gradually learnt all he could about farming in the seven years he worked for them.

He achieved what he deemed the impossible while he was still in Labasa – to be a successful dalo farmer.

Before he took up farming, Jai was a cook for a road construction company contracted to build the road on Taveuni.

“At this time I was so desperate to work that I took up an offer to become a cook. Mind you, I barely know how to cook and most times I was eating first while cooking,” he said.

“I loved all the experiences I had before I found my passion in dalo farming. An uncle of mine encouraged me to farm on the island. I grabbed the opportunity and ran with it.”

He built up his farm from loans and planting materials given to him by his neighbors. To reach his farm means driving two hours up rugged terrain, but one that is well worth it because the scene that awaits you upon arrival priceless, as it overlooks the Wainikeli trait.

Like all hardworking farmers, Jai is up early to start his farm work at 7am and only returns home at 5pm.

Jai Pal, 51, now a seasoned dalo and yaqona farmer also plants vegetables with the help of three laborers and his two sons. He has nine acres of land for yaqona, which is close to maturing at four-years-of age. For his dalo, Jai does phase-planting till it matures at seven months, and covers 12 acres of land.

He estimates he would earn around $180k for his yaqona, while dalo would fetch him $60k.

He has certainly reaped the rewards of hard work that comes from toiling the land. Not only has he re-invested in the land, but he was able to repay his loan, built his home in 2016 worth $150k, bought his vehicle to help in transporting his produce from the farm, bought another property in Labasa for his children to be accommodated in while they study at tertiary-level education, and also bought a fibre glass boat.

His 5,000 yaqona-plants was fortunate enough to have missed the wrath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, allowing him to build his family home and buy his vehicle from its sale.

“I am not boasting. I am trying to encourage and show others what the benefits farming can give you. I started with nil balance in my account. I want to motivate those who are still double-minded to be risk takers and with hard work, you will excel,” he explained.

Despite his hard work, theft and damages to his farm caused by roaming livestock, are issues that farmers like Jai Pal face.

“We have our plans and plant according to our plans and there are always people who come in and reap our sweat by stealing.”

Jai also contributes to social obligations in his community such as vouching for the marginalized in the settlement he lives in for food distribution from his farm during social functions and assisting in the upgrade of the road in the area.

Jai looks forward to continuing farming with plans to establish an irrigation system to improve production and rent a table at the Labasa Market to sell his produce from.