Fiji Government Bailing Out $4.8 Million In Sugarcane Farmer Debt

Government makes payments due to losses suffered from cylcone

By Nasik Swami And Felix Chaudhary

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 16, 2017) – The Government is bailing out sugarcane farmers of their debts worth about $10 million [US$4.8 million].

In a major announcement yesterday, Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the fourth cane payment of $10.57 [US$5.03] per tonne on Friday would be made without any deductions, considering the plight of farmers after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the Government would pick up the deductions of all cane farmers which totals about $10m.

"The Sugar Tribunal as per the Master Award has announced the fourth cane payment would be $10.57 for the 2016 crop. This takes the total cane payment to be paid out to the growers to $72.41 [US$34.48] for the 2016 crop," he said.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said as a result of this determination, a total of $14.57m [US$6.94 million] would be paid by Friday.

"However, government has also noticed that out of this $14.75m [US$7.02 million] that is to be paid, nearly $6.7m [US$3.2 million] of this would be deducted from the individual cane farmers for the respective payments that they have to make to various organisations like the TLTB, FBD, Sugarcane Growers Fund, Lands Department, South Pacific Fertilizers and various other deductions that they do need to make," he said.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said given the fact that many of these farmers had suffered because of the cyclone, government would pick up the payment of these deductions amounting to $6.7m.

He said on top of this, government recognised that about 3945 from Lautoka, Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki took loans of over $100 [US$47.62] from the Cane Growers Fund.

"This is an additional loan some of them have taken out directly as a result of the damage caused by cyclone Winston.

"Government has also decided in order to assist these farmers, to pay off this $1000 loan to these farmers. This equates $3.2m [US$1.5 million].

"So all in all, we are looking at approximately $10m that government will be paying for these farmers, essentially to provide for the relief of these farmers predominately because of the events of cyclone Winston."

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the State also needed to ensure that farmers had funding available to divert these funds for the growing of the next crop.

"This is not by way of a loan, this is by way of a grant to ensure the cane farmers are able to have enough funds to be able to deploy much funds as possible to the next cane season, to be able to ensure that they have enough funds for their planting and for themselves."

There have been mixed reactions from sugarcane growers and grower's representative organisations to the announcement by A-G.

Some have hailed it as much needed and timely assistance while others have said not all farmers will benefit from the Government initiative.

Shalend Reddy, a sardar and productive farmer from Gharam Pani, Tavua, said it would boost farmers who were still picking up the pieces after TC Winston.

"Many had lost hope and were really uncertain about how they would prepare for the start of harvest and crush next month. This will be a huge boost."

Arun Sharma, a prominent grower from Ba said while it was good that Government was reducing the burden from farmers, no every farmer would benefit.

"All our deductions were done in the March cane payment that is why farmers were asking for a special cane payment before the start of school," he said.

"When we heard the cane payment was $10.57, I can tell you the mood in Ba was not very good because it would have meant that farmers would not have had enough money to prepare for the 2017 season.

"With this announcement, at the very least, we will have money to entice labourers and to house and feed them."

His sentiment was shared by Lautoka Cane Producers Association president Parbindar Singh.

"We are puzzled by this announcement and don't know how it will work," he said.

"And I say this because productive growers who are not in debt, will not benefit at all. So where is the fairness?

Fiji Cane Growers Association Rakiraki secretary Pushp Dass said farmers were - in general - happy with the AG's announcement.

"But it needs to be put into perspective because the $10.57 per tonne fourth cane payment was a payment due to growers as per the Master Award," he said.

"And after TC Winston, Government had agreed to waive all rentals for all cyclone-affected areas and this was not done. So, in their view, this is the fulfilment of a promise already made to them.

"And as far as the Sugar Cane Growers Fund $1000 [US$476] loan after TC Winston was concerned, Government had already said it would pay for it later, so this is also nothing new."

Mr Dass said Government needed to put things in perspective before making announcements of this nature.

"All he can realistically do with this is buy four new tyres for his truck. What about the money he will need to entice labourers, house them and feed them, where will that come from?"

At a glance:

Farmer's debts to various organisations:

  • TLTB $375,000 [US$178,600];
  • FDB $1.3m [US$619,000]
  • Sugarcane Growers Fund $3.8m [US$1.8 million];
  • Lands Department $99,000 [US$47,000] and
  • CCSLA $48,000 [US$23,000]

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