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By Charles Chambers

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 3, 2002 – Fiji Times)---Rural dwellers in the cane belt will be hit the hardest if this year's crop falls below last year's figure.

Yesterday Sugar Minister Jonetani Galuinadi and Sugar Cane Growers Council chief executive Jagannath Sami agreed that an urgent meeting of the sugar industry stakeholders is needed.

Mr. Galuinadi also agreed with Mr. Sami that there was a need for an urgent meeting of the ALTA Task Force.

Mr. Sami said the meetings should be called as soon as possible because of the large number of ALTA leases expiring and the negative effect this would have on the sugar industry.

He said last year's cane crop was a low 2.8 million tons and the industry could not afford to fall below that mark this year.

"There would be total chaos in the rural areas,'' said Mr. Sami.

"At present farmers are going through the most difficult economic times in their lives,'' he said.

Mr. Sami said if there were cases where cane farmers had changed to growing marijuana, then this could be put down to the hard times.

''Some may have turned to this illegal activity to make a living,'' he said.

Mr. Sami called on the Social Welfare Department to pay more attention the people who lived in the rural and cane belt areas.

He said the task force needed to meet and assess the situation quickly before it was too late.

Mr. Sami hit out at parliamentarians who represented people living in the sugar cane growing areas for not making a strong stand on the situation in Parliament.

''At present everyone is talking but no action is being done,'' he said.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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