FIJI FARMER HUMBLED BY YAQONA SUCCESS

Feature

62 acres of kava in hilly Cololevu

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 22, 2008) – People of Natewa have great respect for Mika because of what he has done. Mika earned respect through his farm at Cololevu, a piece of land in the hills of Natewa with 62 acres of yaqona. It is a wonder Mika is known to many in Vanua Levu. To many, he is a helper and a giver. Generally shy, the soft-spoken has tons of jokes to crack and his achievement is something to talk about.

Mika built an empire on yaqona 12 years ago.

[PIR editor’s note: Kava (Piper methysticum) other names for kava include 'awa (Hawaii), 'ava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), and sakau (Pohnpei). There are Other methods for cultivating Kava. More established arguments over Kava being safe have been Released by WHO and studies on Lab Rats.]

"With the help of my brother I was able to secure land at Cololevu where I planted yaqona. From then on, my farm grew and I had to hire labourers to help on the farm," Mika said.

Of Chinese origin, Mika is part of the Ting clan of Vanua Levu.

His brothers and cousins have moved on to be successful in the careers of their choice but for Mika, the land was his calling.

The Ting farm is on hilly terrain where yaqona is the only viable crop to grow.

Mika, however, was determined from the start to succeed and not even the rugged terrain could deter him.

"I promised I would succeed and I thank my brother in Ba for his support."

His work did not go unnoticed by the locals and slowly they trickled in to look for work and gain some experience on how to manage a big farm.

For Mika, it was a blessing in disguise and he accepted whoever came to work. He even provided food for them.

A religious man, Mika says to give is to be blessed, and he gave.

Mika sells his yaqona to buyers in Sigatoka and Nadi and Labasa market.

"I have four boys as leading hands and they record everything from newly planted yaqona to those ready for harvest."

Money from yaqona enabled him to buy a Land Cruiser, a mini excavator and two trucks which are of significant value to Mika as they are the main transport mode for his workers. Work on his farm does not require an application or interview. All you need is to have an obligation to your community or village and you will be hired.

"Many people from around Vanua Levu come to work on my farm to earn money so they can fulfil their commitments. They are paid on what they plant.

"When they contact us, a date is set and the trucks go to pick them. We pick them up, they work, we feed them, provide accommodation, pay them and when they earn enough, we transport them back."

The workers are paid on the number of yaqona plants they plant and the rate is one dollar a plant. Mika says many people who came to work were members of a rugby club fundraising for their jerseys, Christian groups fundraising to meet church obligations and so forth.

It is no wonder Mika's success is his blessing and with it comes wisdom. With wisdom comes innovation and for Mika this is something he does not lack.

Cololevu is on the wet zone of Vanua Levu and heavy rainfall is no stranger to the place, with an average rainfall of 2400 millimetres a year.

As such, it is hard to dry the yaqona but Mika adopted technology used by copra farmers in many estates in Cakaudrove he built a drier and uses wood for fuel to dry his yaqona for the market.

"The drier is to speed-up the drying process which is time-consuming. That is how I am consistent with my supply. We found that yaqona dried on a drier has a taste like that of food roasted in an oven so the aeration process was to take away the aroma."

Mika's success in the yaqona industry enabled him to buy a house in Labasa where he resides. There is a house on the farm with a small shop to cater for the basic needs of workers.

He admits a lot of hard work went to his farm and he is looking at improving the road leading to his farm.

The road was the old Natewa- Wailevu Road before the one linking Natewa from Drekeniwai.

"The main problem here is the road and the excavator on the farm is used to maintain it but it can only do so much."

Water is sourced from a spring in the hills and a generator provides electricity when it is needed.

Mika is against the use of drugs and that is a firm rule at his farm but otherwise, life on the Ting farm is so serene and grand visitors find it hard to leave.

"We try our best to make the place as homely as possible especially for those who come to work. The most important thing I stress to my leading hands is to try and make the visitor feel at home so they can enjoy their stay at Cololevu."

Mika encourages fellow farmers to venture into the business world and face the challenges.

"One obstacle that prevents a farmer from being successful is his fear of the unknown but I urge the farmers to be brave and plant for the markets and run their farm as a business and don't look back. At the end of the day the farmers will be winners."

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com.

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