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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 9) - Rice imports are costing the country FJ$21million [US$13 million] a year, interim Agriculture Minister Jainend Kumar said.

He described this as a costly and expensive exercise while speaking to the Information Ministry yesterday.

The decline in sugar prices should serve as an encouragement for rice farmers to diversify their rice production as alternative sources of income, Kumar said.

Rewa Rice Limited which expects 3,000 tons of paddy a year did not get even half the targeted quota, he said. They will be happy even with the 1,500 tons of paddy equivalent to break even, but even this they are not getting, he said. What they are getting is 750 tons of paddy equivalent, which is 25 percent of what they should be getting to be profitable, Kumar said.

Failure to meet the targeted quota was by no means indication that farmers were not planting rice, he said. The Agriculture Ministry is exploring avenues where rice can be collected from rain-fed areas in the sugarcane belt in areas affected by poor irrigation, Kumar said. Growing rice in rain fed areas allows for better utilization of resources in unit area, he said.

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