December 24, 2020       Nadi

Members of Fiji Farmers Forum

Representatives of Farmer Groups

Fiji Farmers Forum Stakeholders

Staff of the Ministry of Agriculture

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good morning to you all.

Thank you for the invitation and the warm words of welcome. I am honored to be here with you today for the Fiji Farmers Forum. This Forum brings together farmers and farmer groups who contribute significantly to the growth of Fiji’s Agriculture Sector. Therefore, having you on the same platform generates a lot of positive ideas and plans on how best we can develop the industry.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, the current COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and economies around the globe. In Fiji, the pandemic is challenging the livelihoods of a significant extent of the population, whose income and employment are at risk due to losses especially in tourism and remittances, representing 34% (RBF, 2017) and 5.1% (WB, 2018) of GDP respectively.

Our Honorable Prime Minister in one of his latest statements, highlighted that up to 115,000 people have lost their jobs or reduced their hours. On the other hand, the Reserve Bank of Fiji has predicted a 21.7% contraction to the economy in the coming year. Vulnerability to climate change and natural hazards such as TC Harold continue to aggravate the difficulties faced during this pandemic. Although COVID-19 has brought much vulnerabilities to the forefront, the pandemic has paved opportunities the nation needs to capitalize on.

The Ministry seized this opportunity through the implementation of agricultural initiatives to fulfill two of its critical primary strategic objectives:

I. Ensure a secured Fiji with its food and nutritional security requirements; and

II. Progressively expand agriculture to its full potential in raising our national income and become the leading export earner for the country.

Ladies and gentlemen, on food security, we have mounted a major program of seed and planting material distribution to urban and rural households and in a very short period of time, we note surge in supply of fresh produce. Of course this surge in supply locally has also been contributed by the shut down of the tourism sector.

At the commercial level, we have pushed ahead with a paradigm change of growing for the market incentivized by market signals rather than government subsidies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, activities undertaken by the Ministry post COVID 19, is part of our response plan focusing on achieving our Strategic Targets of Commercializing Fiji’s Agriculture Sector. This includes activities such as: 

? Construction of farm roads;

? Provision of planting materials;

? Expansion of nurseries in the 4 divisions;

? Irrigation support to farmers;

? Machinery support to farmers;

? Market provision and market development.

Ladies and Gentlmen, over the last 18 months, the Ministry has provided Farm Support to over 2000 medium to large scale ventures with Kava cuttings, Dalo suckers, cassava cuttings, Rice seeds, Kumala cuttings, Duruka cuttings and other seeds and seedlings. 

We have also provided fencing materials to 500 livestock farmers over the same period to migrate them to establish medium to large holdings.

Our livestock sectors is suffering from two major setbacks:

1. Lose of original genetic attributes thus affecting livestock yield;

2. Disease infection, in particular amongst our beef and dairy cattle.

We are working in both of these issues and realization of higher stock numbers and yields will be progressively achieved.

The Ministry plans on improving farm genetic attributes in this financial year 2020/2021. The activity will include establishing and distribution of superior breeds of livestock.  This will include distribution of Senepol Bulls and Brown Swiss to identified TB and Brucellosis free farms (after 3 clear consecutive tests). 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministry will continue to promote Commercial Agriculture to ensure that the sector is competitive, sustainable and resilient. Plans are in place for establishment of large commercial ventures which include, establishment of sustainable and secured seed banks with large nurseries in Fiji to meet planting materials demand. The Ministry in partnership with Exporters and Agro Marketing Authority (AMA) embarked on contracting farmers to focus their production on commercial endeavors. 

What options do we have on this:

1. Large commercials farms/plantations who would have their own processing centre for onward distribution to market. We have a limited number of these.

2. Large commercial farms who would supply to a buyer and/or exporter. We have a limited number of these.

3. A large number of small to medium farms supplying to a buyer and or/exporters. We have a large number of these.

4. A small but growing number of contracted farmers operating out of clusters growing similar crops supplying to buyers and/or exporters.

Ladies and gentlemen, the first best solution is to have options 1 and 2 but due to a number of factors, including the land tenure system, this is not possible in the short to medium term. So we are working around the the existing constraints and examining the 3rd and 4th options.

Ladies and Gentlemen, over the years, Agriculture has always been a very challenging activity especially for farmers in the remote areas of Fiji. Whenever markets are identified, limited market access and high cost of logistics become a hurdle for farmers. Through this collaboration, contracted farmers will know exactly where their targeted produce are being sold and at what specific price. 

The Ministry is focused in bringing the markets to farmer’s doorsteps and will continue to work closely with Exporters and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that farming is treated as a business rather than a hobby or a retirement exercise.  We have commercial farmers venturing to grow targeted produce such as Duruka, Cassava, Bongo Chilies, Peanuts, Dalo, Pawpaw, Egg Plant, Celery, Carrots and Kumala. And this is just the beginning. 

The Ministry has also initiated an agreement with Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) whereby contracted farmers will be qualified to become voluntary members receiving the same benefits provided to compulsory members - Education Assistance, Funeral and Death Benefits, Medical and Housing Assistance. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministry through its Research Division have continued to conduct Research on organic fertilizer. A compost site has been established at our Nadurulolou Research station where formulation of different proportions of organic material such as Poultry manure, Bat manure, Saw Dust, Green waste etc. have been tested to achieve suitable NPK levels.  Outcome of this exercise will ensure the best replacement for chemical fertilizers and the Ministry anticipates to launch this initiative by April, 2021.

 Ladies and Gentlemen, infrastructure plays a very critical role in advancing the Ministry’s collective aspirations especially in delivering only the best for the benefit of the sector. Construction and upgrading of farm roads will not only connect farmers to markets, but improve their access to other essential services such as health services, education, etc. The Ministry will continue to encourage farmers to adopt mechanized farming practices that allows tasks to be completed within a shorter time frame, labor intensity will be reduced and larger areas can be cultivated to produce higher crop yields while sustaining natural resources. For small farmers, Ministry is providing machinery at subsidized costs but we are encouraging them to gradually establish their own pool of mechanical resources, either their own or via forming cooperatives.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a limit to the extent to which we can expand the market for primary commodities. We now have to move towards product development. We are working closely with Food Processors and AMA on this. We have recently launched a number of products.

Product development is key to market expansion. It also serves several other purposes:

1. It solves the perishability dimension.

2. It improves shelf life and contributes to better deal with food security targets.

3. It helps in transportation.

4. It allows us to plan better as to when to push what volume in the market. 

5. It gives more profit.

6. It helps in resolving biosecurity issues.

All the above are not possible when you are dealing with fresh produce or primary commodities.

Ladies and gentleman, 

Fiji has a strategic advantage in this area. Why? 

1. Unlike other countries, Fiji has the ideal climatic conditions to produce all year round. This enable Fiji to exploit the export market during off-season

2. We have one of the most fertile land suitable for crop agriculture. This will see a consistent supply of produce which can be processed. 

3. Our pristine endowment gives us a leverage to go into organic farming.

Ladies and gentlemen our efforts over the last 18 months are now showing results.

On overall production, there is no denial that production has increased. However, we are also doing extremely well with respect to pushing non sugar exports.

Over the first 6 months this year, our exports of fresh and chilled produce increased by 15%, from 4.9m kg in 2019 to 5.7m kg in 2020. In value terms, this amounts to a 11% increase, from $24.1m to $26.8m this year Jan to June.

On this front, we could achieve an annual export figure of $60m by end of this year but we wish to raise this to $100m of annual exports within two years time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministry fully understands the impact of COVID 19 and the demand for Agriculture growth as the backbone of Fiji’s Economy. Our paradigm shift has pushed the Ministry to another level to formulate plans and strategy that will not only sustain us through this pandemic but has enabled us to bounce back better than before.

Ladies and gentlemen I know there are a number of other things that we are doing in Agr that I have not been able to cover here today but I wish to assure you all that business as usual is not the order of the day here at our Ministry. We fully understand the expectations from all stakeholders and if there is anything that I wish to ask you all, then it will be to treat Agriculture as a business and do not treat Agriculture Ministry as a bank …do not ask for hand outs. Create surplus and reinvest and expand. Lets grow our economy in national interest.

On that note, I wish you all the best in your deliberations today and I look forward to the successful outcome of your discussions. Now, it gives me great pleasure to declare your meeting this morning open. 

Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu and Dhanyavaad. 

Dr. M. Reddy

24 September 2020