Three rice farming communities comprising almost 140 farmers in total in the Northern Division were challenged to increase their production after receiving rice harvesters from the Ministry of Agriculture on Wednesday (7.4.21). Lagalaga Farmers’ Cooperative, Maleqeo Number 15 Farmers’ Cooperative, and Laqere-Tabia Farmers’ Cooperative were newly registered Cooperatives and identified by the Ministry as commercial rice farmers, hence the encouragement from Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment, Hon. Dr Mahendra Reddy during the handover ceremony in Labasa. 

“There is a massive potential for rice production in your areas. “There is a lot of vacant land I see lying idle, we need to utilise that land and plant rice so we can reduce the high import bill of $40m that we spend on rice, as explained by the Honorable Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama last week in Bavu Village, Nadroga,” the Minister explained. With the handover of the rice harvesters to the communities, Dr Reddy said he expected to see an increase in production by the end of the year. 

“I want to see production doubling in these areas in probably a year’s time, and increasing thereafter.” In addition, Dr Reddy said planting other crops or continuing raising livestock should not stop just because farmers decided to concentrate on rice. “Continue to cultivate sugarcane, cassava, dalo, raise livestock, raise goat or sheep – you need to diversify.“If in one year, sugar prices reduce then the other crop or livestock income will help sustain you in that period. 

“That is why it is very important that you diversify,” he said.The rice harvesters were funded thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Union. Lagalaga Farmer’s Cooperative Secretary and only woman in the group, Ms Akisi Vinaka, 62, who only until recently was also a sugarcane farmer explained in i-taukei that she stopped planting sugarcane this year after there was no longer any means to transport their cane to the sugar mill following the damage to the tramline in their area by TC’s Yasa and Ana. 

She said that was the push to switch to rice in addition to the earlier assistance received for the Cooperative, which included a tractor, a tiller and a small portable rice mill. Ms Vinaka said the new rice harvester was an answer to their prayers of trying to find ways to pay for their land rent following the abrupt halt to their sugarcane planting, as she previously explained. Maleqeo Number 15 Farmers’ Cooperative Secretary, Mr Yogendra Vikash Ram, 31, said he was proud, pleased and pleasantly surprised that the assistance promised to them by the Minister arrived so soon. 

“Before we used sickles or hired laborers to harvest rice, it was very hard for us at that time. “We also used a rice harvester in Labasa but that took long to reach us and we had to plant and harvest according to when the harvester would reach us here in Lagalaga. 

“But now, we do not have to worry about that, we can plant at any time because we have our own harvester,” Mr Ram said. He said the gesture shown by the Minister would motivate them to increase their production rate.

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