Picture: Arti and her husband Anesh on their farm 

Agriculture is an important engine of growth and poverty reduction and its importance cannot be emphasised enough.

Aggregate data by statisticians from around the world shows that women, comprise about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force globally and in developing countries.

In Fiji, according to the 2020 National Agriculture Census Report, around 14.4 percent of women are engaged in agricultural production.

Out of all the total women farmers in Fiji, 25% are in the Western Division.

In a six acre farm tucked away in Raiwasa in Rakiraki, 38-year-old Arti Devi has defied everything to continue her farming activities for the past six years.

“Farming has always been my hobby and I used to help my late father while growing up and my education and career was founded through money earned from our farm,” said Arti.

She joined various workplaces including the Fiji Police Force for a little over seven years, the Fiji Women's Crisis Center for two years and then joined the Fiji Correction Service for three months before finding her niche in farming.

“I felt something was missing when I was working for the force, I enjoyed working for those institutions but was not at peace until I returned to the land,” she said.

“I come from a farming background and I have always loved to work alongside my father on the vegetable farm while growing up.”

Married with three children, her interest in farming gave her the privilege to return to her father’s land to take the reins from him as his health was deteriorating.

In 2014, Arti and her husband Anesh Kumar Singh started their farming journey as a couple on a small scale and also doing backyard before becoming commercial farmers.

“We were based in Suva when my father called me up and asked for me to return home and do farming which I gladly accepted, we packed our stuff and moved to Rakiraki and I have not regretted the decision we made ever since,” she said with a smile.

The first vegetable they planted was chillies and they planted a wide variety of chillies with the bongo variety on the top shelf.

“The piece of land that my father gave for us to plant was filled with chillies and there was a huge variety,” she said.

They would transport their harvested chillies to the Suva market in their car and would take 10-20 bags of bongo chillies twice a week and selling at $25 per kg. It was a really good income for us.”

Their earnings enabled them to buy a new van and then they purchased another three acres land and built a farm house.  

They expanded their farming to assorted vegetables like English cabbage, Hawaiian pawpaw, eggplant, Okra, cucumber, watermelon, cowpea and long bean.

“For our assorted vegetables we supply to the Rakiraki, Tavua, Lautoka and Ba markets and also have a middleman buying at our farm gate on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” explained Arti.

As with any other crop farm, the biggest threat is pests and diseases. With the added expertise from her husband who also has a farming background and continuous liaison with the Agriculture Office in Rakiraki, they were able to control pests and diseases using organic control practices.

The couple were assisted in 2018 under the Food Security Program with an irrigation kit worth $6,000 for their vegetable farm. Their farm is not immune to the effects of drought and the assistance included a rotovator machine to help with land preparation works and vegetable seedlings.

The couple are determined to lift their vegetable farming programme to another level in the near future

“We are working on purchasing a tractor for land preparation works as we plan on going big,” said Arti.

“We have another three acres of land which often faces water problems during the dry season. We plan to plant duruka on that piece of land and substitute it with watermelon during the rainy season.”

In 2022 alone the hard-working couple harvested approximately $6,000 from the sale of watermelon.

They are also planning to expand their market and to deliver their vegetable produce to the Suva market in addition to the supply to the Rakiraki Market.

Arti is a farmer, a mother and a community worker and has been multi-tasking her skills over the years, Most importantly, she ensures that she covers all her bases well.

“I enjoy helping people and working on the farm as it often eases the various stresses of life. I thank my husband who is a police officer for always assisting me on the farm after work in addition to the four casual laborers from Raiwasa village who are always helping during land clearing and harvesting,” said the grateful Arti.

She also thanked the Ministry of Agriculture for the assistance and advice rendered to her with regards to growing her farm and she says, it has greatly impacted her life and her family.  

“If you have land, make use of it and if you work hard on your farm you will get enough, you can get $1,000 in a week from it and not only that, you will also be able to eat fresh vegetables on a daily basis thus increasing your health and wellbeing.”

The Ministry will continue to recognize the contribution of women in the agriculture sector. As of today, 12,084 women farmers are registered in the National Farmers Database. This is an increase from the 11,971 recorded in 2020. Also according to the 2020 Fiji Agriculture Census Report, women farmers contributed $57.9 million to the total agricultural production value.

The Ministry is encouraging more women to visit the nearest agriculture station and talk to the staff on the various programmes available and how they can be part of our vision in building a sustainable, competitive and resilient agriculture sector.