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Landowners should take up cane farming: NFU

National Farmers Union (NFU) General Secretary and former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry says landowners should be encouraged to take up cane farming on a bigger scale to boost production.

Chaudhry in his address to cane growers at the Union’s General Body Meeting in Labasa yesterday said this shift is inevitable going into the future as large numbers of tenant farmers opt out of cane farming faced with uncertainties over land leases and unaffordable rent and premium levies.

He said Fiji Sugar Corporation statistics show close to 5000 active growers have left the industry since 2006 and 1700 leases are due to expire in the next 7 years – 1113 in the West and 631 in the North.

“Problems for growers had reached critical proportions, with uncertainties over land tenure, soaring land rents and premium demands as the major issues confronting them.”

“Government is coming under increasing pressure from landowners calling for
Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) to be scrapped. The Union warns that
without the security of tenure provided under ALTA, the entire agricultural sector is put
at great risk. Investment in agriculture will be drastically affected,” Chaudhry said.

“The amounts demanded as premium for new leases or renewals are excessive.”

“The recently introduced partial payment assistance scheme by the Government provides
some relief. It is, however, not adequate because of the large sums demanded.”

He said the issue of premiums itself needs to be reviewed. The amounts charged are far in excess of that authorized under ALTA.

“The process is not transparent.”

“Land rents are now arbitrarily assessed, not based on the provisions of ALTA limiting it
to a maximum of 6% of the UCV (unimproved capital value of land). Growers are not
provided details of assessment in their rent notices.”

“The Agricultural Tribunal’s Office where growers could go to seek redress, has been
dysfunctional for sometime now.”

Chaudhry added that as it is, growers are faced with escalating costs of cultivation and transportation of cane to the mills, frequent milling problems and high labour charges – putting a huge financial burden on them.

Reginald Chandar
Reginald Chandar
Head of News & Sports | news@fijilive.com

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