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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug.4) – A landowning unit wants to set an example to other clans by renewing leases without demanding goodwill payments.

Members of Mataqali Nubuiluva of Wai-kubukubu Village near Nadarivatu, inland from Tavua, have approved 46 leases, 27 of which belong to Indian farmers.

It came as the Sugar Cane Growers Council announced it had begun negotiating leases with landowners directly because it seemed politicians could not resolve the land issue.

The Council said political leaders were too busy preparing for the 2006 general elections and had ignored issues affecting the poor and the farmers.

Clan spokesman Moreti Nadilo promised to cooperate with tenants to ensure that sugar cane farming in the area continued to thrive, guaranteeing that their land would not be left idle.

Mr Nadilo said mataqali members, who owned 6649 acres of land, had decided to start renewing leases after hearing news that many landowners around the country were not willing to extend or grant leases to farmers.

Mr Nadilo said previously there were 27 leases held by farmers on mataqali land. But he said after a series of meetings with the Native Land Trust Board and tenants, four properties retained their sizes while the rest were sub-divided to cater for new farmers wanting to enter the industry.

He said the average size of each leased property was 30 to 50 acres, giving the farmers a seasonal harvest of about 300 tonnes.

"We wanted to renew the leases because our tenants were becoming afraid of the rumours that landowners were not willing to grant leases," he said.

"We also wanted to lease the land to make sure that our land did not go to waste if tenants vacated the properties.

"Landowners throughout the country should follow our example for the sake of farmers and also to preserve our land."

NLTB Estate Officer Etuate Mataitini said it was a proud moment for the board because the renewals took place as a result of close co-operation between all stakeholders.

Mr Mataitini agreed with Mr Nadilo that landowners should not demand goodwill payments from any farmer because it was not a pre-requisite under the Native Lands Act.

He said the landowners of Mataqali Nubuiluva had definitely set a benchmark for all to follow.

Mr Mataitini said instead of a goodwill payment, the landowners agreed to an offer by tenants for them to present a traditional ceremony of thanksgiving in the village in the next two weeks.

He denied claims that Tavua parliamentarian Damodran Nair had facilitated talks between the parties which led to the lease renewals.

"All the talks were between NLTB, landowners and tenants,'' he said.

The groundwork for this initiative was done by the assistant Estate officer, Inia Ravulo," he said.

Usman Ali, the advisory councillor of Wainivoce and whose lease was one of those renewed, said words could not describe the happiness of farmers.

He said if the mataqali had not renewed their leases, they faced a bleak future because they had nowhere to go.

Council chief executive Jagannath Sami questioned why Fiji Labour Party parliamentarians were collecting salaries and allowances when they refused to take part in sector committees where national issues could be resolved.

Mr Sami said failure by the leaders to resolve the land problem had resulted in a "human tragedy" throughout the cane belts.

"The mushrooming of squatters settlements on the outskirts of the cities is evidence of the magnitude of the problems faced by displaced cane farmers," Mr Sami said.

He said of the 100 ALTA leases that expired in the first year, 66 were renewed to sitting and other tenants and 34 were reverted to landowners.

Of the 69 cane leases, 42 were renewed, 27 were reverted to landowners and 25 residential leases issued to sitting and other tenants.

He said this was achieved when the Government and the Opposition were engaged in dialogue and discussions.

But since 1999, he said over 6000 ALTA leases have expired, out of which 4600 are cane leases. Mr Sami said most of the farmers had resorted to finding a solution themselves.

He said the council, with the assistance of the NLTB, landowners and tenants, helped execution of 2739 leases with over 3000 leases still to be resolved.

Mr Sami said the council supported calls by the Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi for landowners and cane farmers to negotiate the renewal of leases themselves instead of relying on politicians.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

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