Fiji Sugar Industry Problems Due To Government Interference: Prominent Grower

Views of growers have been marginalized

By Felix Chaudhary

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 5, 2017) – The dire state of the sugar industry is because of continuous Government interference and the ongoing suppression of growers' views and suggestions.

This was the submission by prominent Ba canefarmer Arun Sharma to the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs during consultation on two sugar Bills in Ba yesterday. The Naloto grower said it was difficult for farmers to raise concerns when their pleas were ignored and their petitions continuously thrown out of Parliament.

"The problems in the sugar industry comes from the Government," he claimed.

"If anybody from the sugar industry or canefarmers' side says anything, the Sugar Minister says there is a lot of politics in the industry.

"But he doesn't know that he himself is politicising the industry. We plant the cane, harvest it and deliver it to the mill but we have no say in the industry.

"We have had a lot of problems since Tropical Cyclone Winston and giving two packs of rations will not help a farmer to rebuild.

"And giving this small card (Help for Homes) for $1500, $3000 or $7000, will not bring the sugar industry to where it was before. We have been bent down in front of FSC and bent down in front of Government but we are not broken.

"We are still strong because we have to look after our families and ourselves because we are under a lot of debt and if we don't pay it, tomorrow our houses and our land will be sold."

Mr Sharma added after exhausting all avenues, growers took their issues to Parliament only to have them ignored.

"We put our petitions to Parliament, but nobody wants to listen to us, they say it's politics.

"How long will this politics go on?

"How long are they going to throw our petitions out the window?"

Varoko grower Khalid Ali echoed Mr Sharma's sentiments when he made his submission.

He said politics was part and parcel of life and farmers would continue to be frustrated if their views were not given due consideration.

"If you just listen to farmers and resolve problems then the issue is resolved," he said.

"If you laugh at our problems and don't listen, we will vote with our feet. You can't get rid of politics, but you can solve problems if stakeholders listen and work together.

"One person can't dictate things, there has to be bipartisan approach, no one can say they have absolute knowledge of the industry."

Prominent farmer and former parliamentarian Gyan Singh said it was important that Government stayed out of the operations of the industry.

"Any minister of any Government should stay out of the actual running of the industry," he said.

"They should leave it to independent and neutral people in this industry to run it professionally."

When pressed by Standing Committee member Prem Singh for suggestions on how to improve the industry, Mr Sharma said democratising the Sugar Cane Growers Council by having elected farmers on the board would be a good start.

Fiji Times Online.
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