The 19 Vanuatu nationals presently engaged in a cane-cutting pilot programme in some farms at Balevuto in Ba have commended the Fijian Government for providing them the opportunity to assist farmers with cane harvesting this crushing season.
The Fijian Government, through the Ministry of Sugar Industry, as part of its efforts to address labour shortage and increase cane production, made arrangements to bring into the country the Vanuatu nationals for the pilot programme which is expected to run for three month.
For the past three weeks, the Vanuatu labourers have been harvesting cane in two farms with about 200 tonnes of cane already delivered to the sugar mill.
Permanent Secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister, Sugar Industry and Immigration Mr Yogesh Karan yesterday visited the labourers to witness firsthand, the progress of their work on the farms.
Mr Karan was very impressed with the harvesting developments and conveyed the Prime Minister’s sincere appreciation to the labourers.
“Labour shortage in the Sugar industry continues to be major setback for the government and we had made several talks about hiring labourers from overseas,” he said.
“This is a pilot programme that we have embarked on and if all goes well, we hope to bring more labourers in the next season. We’ve heard that farmers in this area want more labourers from Vanuatu and this is something we will work on come the next season.
“The initiative came about after a request was received from Ba farmers, however, the need is just as great in other sugar cane sectors around Fiji.
“Government has introduced a lot of incentives such as fertilizer subsidy, farm mechanisation and the issuance of the new farmers’ assistance scheme grant, among other initiatives to help boost cane production in Fiji. “This programme is also part of it and we are indeed thankful to the Vanuatu labourers for coming to assist us.”
The team leader for the Vanuatu labourers Daniel Melanamu conveyed the team’s appreciation to the Fijian Government for the opportunity.
“Some of us have been to Australia and New Zealand for the seasonal workers scheme but to be here to help our Pacific brothers is a wonderful opportunity,” Mr Melanamu said.
“We’ve been looked after well here and the hosts are very friendly. We hope to bring positive changes to the sugar industry here and also come back next year.”
The labourers will also work on the farms during the non-harvesting seasons.
Meanwhile, the farmers have expressed appreciation on the Government’s initiative to get cane cutters and requested for 120 more for next season and more for farm labour.
The Ministry of Sugar Industry had advised FSC to advertise the need for cane cutters earlier this year, however, there were hardly any response despite numerous attempts to recruit cutters.
The Bainimarama-led Government will continue to support the sugar industry to sustain the livelihoods of the more-than 200,000 people who depend on it.
Under the country’s National Development Plans, more effort will be concentrated in increasing productive capacity, improving transportation and generating additional revenue.
To raise sugarcane production, replanting on unused sugar cane leases, securing more lease renewals and mechanisation