Women thrive in male-dominated Navuso Agriculture School

Picture: Left photo: Left Sakaraia Neidiri, Lavenia (middle), Pauliasi Ratu (right) attending to newborn piglets. Right photo: Makelesi (middle) with her two assistants at the calf rearing shed during feeding time. 

The fact that they are women with a passion for farming; not at all concerned that they will be in a male-dominated learning space; in fact that spurred them on to sign up for lessons at the Navuso Agriculture Technical Institute (NATI).

Lavenia Paulina and Makelesi Lailai Ratuvaga are both second year students undertaking Certificate in Agriculture Level IV at NATI in Navuso, Naitasiri.

Thriving in a male dominated environment has borne fruit with the pair becoming supervisors of two of the Institute’s ten enterprises that turns their classroom learning into practical applications.

Lavenia is the supervisor for the Piggery section while Makelesi manages the Calf-rearing section.

Makelesi, originally from Bulileka in the Tikina of Labasa, Macuata is no stranger to farming as she grew up in a family that loved to farm.

“We moved to various places because of my dad’s pastoral work as a church minister for the Methodist Church. We have livestock, yaqona, and crops back home in Bulileka,” she said.

Makelesi who is also fondly known as ‘Rosi’, whilst growing up wanted to be a Physical Education teacher. She even went as far as starting her tertiary studies at the Fiji National University, until a newspaper advertisement by NATI caught her eye.

“What I read completely changed my mind. I made the decision to rekindle my passion for farming and the idea of leasing my own Mataqali land for farming appealed to me,” she said.

“I grew up to loving to farm and know how sweet farming was after we sold our produce.”

Following approval from her parents, ‘Rosi’ enrolled and almost immediately began thriving in an environment that was familiar to her. However, what excited was learning new things.

Her daily work at the Calf Rearing shed along with three other Year One students who were all males was to over-see the welfare of the calves.

“Rearing a newborn calf can be extremely challenging and requires patience and commitment. We have to keep them well fed and free of sickness,” Rosi said.

Her team tends to the weaning, feeding, dehydration, and controlling diahorrhea to 35 calves. It is important that the calves are kept comfortable with a sick bay nearby in case the animals fall sick.

 “It is enjoyable but I prefer to concentrate on yaqona as my main crop after I graduate because the weather in Bulileka is suitable for yaqona and not dairy.”

Her fellow student, Lavenia, 25, is an expert in birthing piglets which is similar to her dream job of being a nurse.

“Although I was accepted into nursing school, it was through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I not take that up. Instead I was led to focus on something similar to looking after people, which was to look after livestock.”

Into her third month as a supervisor in the Piggery section looking after a total stock of 28, Lavenia has assisted in birthing eight sows.

Included in their daily tasks, Lavenia and her team keep an eye out on clipping needle teeth, feeding, docking of tails, administering iron and other medications, identifying piglets for castration.

“When the pigs are in heat, our utmost concentration and note taking is at its highest. But we enjoy every bit of the hands-on-training that’s provided to us by NATI,” she said.

“I am grateful to what the school has taught me over the years. While I await graduation I am learning as much as I can about the different enterprises. It is very interesting.”

Lavenia plans to venture into poultry farming in Naqeledamu, Tailevu after graduating. As part of the graduation package she will receive a lease agreement that will allow her start off in making farming a business.

The exposure and knowledge NATI has and continues to instill in the ladies is sure to take them a long way into becoming successful agriculture entrepreneurs.