Vulagi Settlement in Tailevu is approximately 28 kilometers from Korovou Town and is always a breathtaking sight to take when traveling towards Dawasamu, as the rolling hills are adorned with pineapple farms, honey boxes and grazing animals.

This is home to 43-year-old Rajesh Chand who was born and bred in the settlement. In fact, he speaks fluent Fijian and is a well-known farmer in the area who responds to the name ‘Saula’ whenever he is called.

“I was named after one of our laborers here in Burelevu Village and the name has stuck till today,” he smiled.

The hard working farmer has 24 acres of land which is filled with pineapples and vegetables which he supplies on a wholesale basis to the Suva and Nausori Markets once a week.

“I was brought up here all my life and have two other brothers. They chose the teaching profession while I preferred to continue farming. It has been a challenging journey but I enjoy hard work,” he explained.

“My day basically revolves around the farm and I would not have it any other way.”

Challenges at the start of the year

Mr. Chand says that this year was not particularly kind to him and other farmers in the vicinity as there were weeks of heavy downpour which caused major flooding.

“The access road from my house to the main road was completely washed away. It remained that way for a couple of weeks and I sought assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture and Waterways.”

“I called the Minister for Agriculture and Waterways, Honourable Vatimi Rayalu and explained to him about my plight. It was a great surprise when he turned up personally to my farm to see for himself the flooded road. He promised to have his team assist me to conduct the repair works.”

“It didn’t take long for help to come and I am really thankful to the Ministry for their continued support and assistance. Now I am just waiting for the cement to arrive to have it fully completed as well.”

Mr. Chand said that he faced difficulties in getting his produce across the flooded portion of his road and had to rely on transporting it with the aid of his working bullocks.

“Now my vehicle is up and running because the road has been repaired. I am so grateful for the prompt assistance from the Ministry and know that they have been supporting farmers in Vulagi for years and for that we are truly grateful,” added Mr. Chand.

Assistance received from Ministry

Back in 2019, a group of farmers left Fiji for a learning experience in South Korea and Mr. Chand was fortunate to have attended with a few staff and farmers.

“South Korea is miles ahead in their farming programmes because they have the latest technology. We can do the same but using simple, affordable technologies. The onus is on us because if we do not have the passion and drive for farming, then everything will remain the same,” advised Mr. Chand.

“I had also received assistance for the construction of my farm road as well as the provision of fertilizer. And now with the repair of my road access, I am truly grateful,” he smiled.

Mr. Chand says that pineapple farming has slowed down for a while as he is finding it hard to breakeven with the cost of agricultural inputs and fertilizer.

“But I will pick it up again soon once I start finding my footing with the upcoming vegetable season as I plan to stock up on the required inputs for my pineapple farm.”

Senior Agriculture Officer (Tailevu) Mr. Esava Tuimoala says that Mr. Chand is the epitome of perseverance.

“He is a frequent visitor to our office in Korovou and is always wanting to know more about how he can improve his current production. We need more farmers like Mr. Chand. Farmers who love to work hard and will continue to persevere even through obstacles,” explained Mr. Tuimoala.

Advice to farmers

Both gentlemen would like to see more youths and women participating in farming activities and programmes.

“There are a lot of thefts happening in the Vulagi Settlement farms and this is sad to see because there is so much land around us yet, we cannot toil it.”

Mr. Chand added that instead of stealing, more people should wake up and work on their land before it is too late.

“We all know what happened during the lockdown period and it was us farmers that were thriving because we were able to feed our families and earn income.”

Mr. Tuimoala further added that youths and women groups must make time to visit their nearest agriculture station and talk to the staff on plans that they have with regards to agricultural production.

“We can sit and discuss with you on your plans forward. But please, make the first step!”

There are 21 districts in the province of Tailevu with 130 villages and 434 settlements.

There are a total of 9595 farmers in Tailevu alone who carry out farming on a subsistence, semi-commercial and commercial level.

Mr. Tuimoala hopes that more youths in Tailevu will move away from the ‘lazy-syndrome’ and pick up their tools and start farming extensively on their land.

“There is no excuse now as the price for root crops is really high at the moment with a sack of cassava fetching up to $120 a bag. All vegetables are even fetching high prices and yet, we prefer to drink grog all night and sleep all day.”

“That is the reality of things happening in our villages and settlements and I plead with youths- as future leaders in your communities, you must do something worthwhile and set a good example to those growing up after us,” added Mr. Tuimoala.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Waterways will continue to encourage Fijians to engage in agricultural production whether it be crops or livestock production.