Farming is sweet: Ba farmer

Picture: Jope on his farm

Jope Botitu decided against taking up any offers of formal employment despite receiving them while being a full-time farmer in rural Ba; for the sole reason that he had tasted the sweetness of earning a living from tilling the land.

This is also despite the fact that farming made him start from scratch; literally nothing. Just the land in Marinitawa and his family. Surviving only from what they planted as food security for over 20 years until he turned to commercial farming five years ago where he was able to finally make some real money from his first harvest of pineapples to take care of other family needs.

While the 45-year-old of Rara, Nalotawa, Ba focuses on planting pineapple as his main crop, with close to 40,000 suckers already in the ground; he has also planted one acre of cassava.

Speaking in iTaukei, Jope explained he was part of a farming cluster that came together to form ‘Tu Ka Cakava Canefarmers’ Cooperative’ in 2017, targeted at progressing their farming efforts collectively as a group.

The Cooperative were assisted with land preparatory activities thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture where each member had ten hours of its usage, along with the provision of 10,000 pineapple suckers to kick start their individual farms, as part of the Ministry’s Demand Driven Approach program.

While the group were made up of canefarmers’ who were planting sugarcane they opted to diversify and plant other produce, hence the Ministry assisted with the provision of pineapple suckers to each member to help kick start their non-sugarcane farms.

Jope said he made close to $8k from his first harvest which certainly went a long way towards catering to his family’s needs.

He added from that initial 10,000 pineapple suckers, he was now harvesting close to twice that number.

Jope said his family was further assisted with a nursery, a water tank, and water pump also under that same program. The nursery has been put to good use. His family help Jope raise seedlings of mainly eggplant and chillies, which are then supplied back to members of the Cooperative, making such a tremendous impact on the family income.

As alluded to, Jope has opted to diversify his crops to include short terms cash crops whilst waiting for his longer term commodities of pineapple and cassava to mature.

He markets his pineapples in Lautoka Municipal Market which if sales are slow, either he or his wife spend the night there just to save costs and to ensure they can sell as much as they can before returning home. He seeks help in finding a more permanent arrangement to market his main produce.

He was also assisted by two NGOs; ‘Pacific Island Farmers Organisation Network’ (PIFON) and ‘Rise Beyond the Reef’ with eggplant seedlings and a bio-gas plant to help produce manure for his cassava farm.

Jope has carriage of two land leases; one land parcel is 10 hectares and the other is 12 hectares both put to good use.    

He reiterated his appreciation for the Government assistance he received that enabled him to continue to develop his farm, which eventually allowed him to build and slowly extend his home, send his children to school, put away some savings, and take care of daily needs.

He advised those with land, especially the itaukei to not take it for granted. He said many itaukei who had land, wanted to work for companies and businesses in search of a regular source of income. Little did they know, he added, that with just a little effort, they could be making more money that they would earn in the formal sector.