COVID pandemic, a blessing in disguise: young farmer

Picture: Back to Rural Agriculture recipient, Navneet at his farm behind his home at Korovuto, Nadi.

COVID-19 made me return to farming, says former hotel worker, Navneet Nand, 25, a recipient of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Back-to-Rural-Agriculture initiative.

The former Commis Chef who resides with his parents and only brother in Korovuto, Nadi says receiving the assistance assisted his transition smoothly from working for someone else to becoming self-employed.

“I was working for seven years on Denarau and for some companies until COVID made me unemployed. I was given this Back to Rural Agriculture assistance and it really helped me. I planted the seeds that were given to me – cabbage, radish, and coriander.

“I was also given greenhouse materials which has helped me to plant all the year round and it will also protect my vegetables from being washed away from the rains,” Navneet explained.

The initiative, he added, also helped him purchase much-needed parts for his tractor, which again would go back to assist with his farm work. 

He said the global pandemic made former hotel workers like him return to their land to farm it and that had helped them to survive.

Navneet, the second of two brothers, is the only sibling and family member that tends to their family farm full time. His father is sickly and his mum looks after him, while his brother works. Such a responsibility could be seen as daunting. But not for him.

“It’s not really that hard. It depends on one’s mentality. The only challenge we face here is the weather, both the drought and the rain because I do not have any irrigation system set up,” he explained.

Their vegetables are sold on the roadside, a short distance away from their home either weekly or sometimes twice weekly.

“In a season, depending on whether we have five or six crops or three crops; in a month we can make about $2000,” he revealed.

When Navneet and his family need to sell their vegetables in bulk, that roadside activity becomes a whole family affair. When there is not much to sell, they seek the help of another farmer to sell for them. They also distribute to their local community when there is extra.

Now that the tourism industry has re-opened, Navneet said he has not yet decided whether he would return to work or whether he would remain as a full time farmer because he has also seen its benefits like being his own boss.

He urged young farmers who had land and not utilized it to do so rather than sitting around watching videos on their mobile phones all day.

“When you work your land, you will see in a few months’ time the results. Farming will also help you in exercising and keeping healthy.”

The Back to Rural Agriculture program was launched by Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment, Hon. Dr Mahendra Reddy in June and closed last week (15.12.21).

The aim of the program was to support Fijians who had lost their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and had returned to rural areas to focus on agriculture.

Recipients like Navneet received a package valued at $400 that consisted of $250 worth of farming tools, $100 worth of planting materials and $50 cash for other items farmers may wish to purchase. The toolkit included one farm knife, a digging fork, a digging spade, a 20L water bucket, one Jerry Water Can, an axe, one 50m rope, a tarpaulin set, and one set of shalon shade cloth.