FIJI LAND LEASE RENTS ARE TOO LOW

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Oct. 23) - There is no doubt that the future of the sugar industry depends so much on land availability. The industry has no chance of surviving if accessibility to land is made any more difficult than the situation farmers face today.

Hundreds of farmers have been forced to leave the industry when their agricultural leases expired and were not renewed by the landowners. In such cases, the industry loses the farmers and the farmers lose their only means of livelihood. And most of these pieces of land lie idle today because the landowners do not really have any need for them.

Most of these leases are on native land and much therefore depends on the goodwill of the landowning units to allow their land to be leased by others.

An important factor here is the return they receive from leasing their land. Today, land rent is worked out on 6 percent of the unimproved capital value of the land. It has been pointed out so often that this is too low when one considers the value of land and how important it is to make it available to the farmers.

If the value of land is genuinely appreciated by the industry and its stakeholders, the return to the landowners should be addressed fairly and appropriately so that they enjoy what they can get from it.

Part of the reason some landowning units have declined to renew expiring leases is because of the low return.

The lessee, as they see it, receives all the benefit from the land while the landowner is not appropriately rewarded.

Only when they are happy and satisfied with what they receive as rent will the landowners be willing to allow their land to be leased by others.

It is pleasing to see some landowning units out of generosity and goodwill allow the renewal of leases because they hate to see the farmers denied the opportunity to earn a living through farming. And most had been living with farmers for a long time and regard them as friends and neighbors.

Recently we have seen examples of this in the sugarcane belts. The farmers directly approach the clans and ask them to renew their leases. The landowners readily agree and give the Native Land Trust Board the green light to extend the leases.

But it is unfair to continue to take advantage of the goodwill and kindness of the landowning units without giving them an appropriate and fair return for the use of their land.

The land rent calculation needs to be urgently reviewed upwards so that the landowners can enjoy a reasonable return from their land. Only when they are happy can we expect them to grant leases and renew ones when they expire.

6 percent of UCV is too low. The landowners deserve better.

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