26 Nov 2008

Fiji's National Farmers Union predicts up to 500 farmers will walk off land

7:53 am on 26 November 2008

The president of Fiji's National Farmers Union, Sanjeet Maharaj, is predicting up to 500 farmers will walk off the land in coming months.

Mr Maharaj says the cost of fuel, increasing land rents, and the lack of any government assistance to the sugar cane industry will see farmers moving to urban centres in the hope of finding work.

He is critical of last week's budget which saw more than 12 million US dollars allocated to the tourism sector but nothing given to farmers.

"We all know that the tourist come, they use Mastercards and other things, and most of the hotels are owned by foreigners. So that money doesn't stay in Fiji. Only those people who are employed by the hotels they get paid. Whereas the farmers, we have 22,000 farmers and their families. You know we can multiply that by an average of four - so you know that money stays in Fiji."

Mr Maharaj says some cane farmers will switch crops to cassava which can be used to produce ethanol.

But he says its uncertain how long the switch will take and how much of the land presently under cultivation is suitable for growing cassava.