Fiji Agricultural Sector Severely Hit By Flooding

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Extent of damage to export market still unclear

By Shayal Devi

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 8, 2016) – The impact of flooding on local and international fruit and vegetable supply will be a huge challenge for the agriculture sector over the next few months.

Those whose livelihoods depend on growing produce and the exporters who depend on these growers have both been seriously affected. The Ministry of Agriculture has conceded that the sector was badly affected by the recent flooding.

However, principal agricultural officer West Vinesh Kumar said they would be able to comment further after assessing the extent of damage to farmlands.

[PIR editor’s note: On April 8, 2016 RNZI reported that ‘The cyclones and recent deluges have set business back by up to 10 years says a retail operator in Fiji's hard hit west.’]

Farmers in the Sigatoka Valley area are presently supplying produce they have managed to salvage from their saturated farms.

Manasa Exports, a key player in the industry, says exports to its main markets in Auckland, New Zealand, and Vancouver, Canada, hang in the balance.

"We were closed for two weeks after Tropical Cyclone Winston and things had started to normalise, but now we are expecting supply to decrease in the coming weeks," said director Surendra Kumar.

The company normally exported about seven tonnes of produce to New Zealand and 1.3 tonnes to Canada on a weekly basis.

This figure is expected to drop significantly in the coming weeks.

[PIR editor’s note: On April 8, 2016 Fiji Times reported that ‘Sugar industry stakeholders are waiting with fingers crossed to see what impact two tropical disturbances and Tropical Cyclone Zena will have on their last vestige of hope — farms in Lautoka, Nadi and Sigatoka. ... Six weeks ago, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston smashed through the Western Division destroying and damaging about 80 per cent of cane crops in Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki. ... The industry was pinning its hope on sugar cane from Sigatoka to Lautoka to provide seed cane for the affected areas and to provide some form of harvest for the 2016 season. ... Heavy rainfall associated with TD14F and TD15F and TC Zena has resulted in widespread flooding across the cane belt area in the West.’]

"We export any and all fresh produce we can get from farmers, including bele, coconuts, curry leaves and okra.

"We employ about 60 people here and many of them have been affected by the floods as well. We know many farmers have been affected and because supply is down, we will have to look for other suppliers for the time being and that will be a costly exercise."

Mr Kumar said weather anomalies over the past few months had resulted in about $40,000 in losses for the company.

Similar sentiments were shared by personnel of Mahen's Export.

The company, which employs about 75 permanent and casual staff and purchases produce from over 500 farmers in the country, is expecting operations to normalise in the next four months.

Company managing director Ranitesh Kumar said after Severe TC Winston, their operations had normalised by at least 50 per cent.

"Production will be a bit less but we are hopeful things will work out quickly," he said.

Mr Kumar said they were grateful that the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and Ministry of Agriculture had provided additional personnel in the area to help with maintaining quality control for export produce.

"We want to request the ministry to provide papaya and eggplant seeds urgently to affected farmers so this can boost exports."

According to Mr Kumar, they were still waiting for electricity to normalise so they could start preparing produce for export.

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