Land and labour issues holding back Solomons rice farm revival
Members of the Solomon Islands business community say land and labour issues are hindering hopes to revive the rice farming industry.
Members of the business community in Solomon Islands say land and labour issues are hindering hopes to revive the rice industry.
The grain is a major staple food in Solomon Islands and the country is heavily dependent on imports which cost the nation millions of dollars a year.
Beverley Tse spoke to some who believe the country should be farming its own rice.
YOSHIYUKI SATO: We import hundreds of millions of dollars worth of rice every year. What is so wrong for us to be able to try to be self-reliant on rice?
Honiara businessman Yoshiyuki Sato is one of many who see potential in reviving Solomon Islands' rice industry. The country was once a successful rice producing nation until tropical Cyclone Namu struck in May 1986, creating mudslides and floods which destroyed food crops.
YOSHIYUKI SATO: Normally throughout the world you get two crops a year - very good. We came very close to actually producing three crops a year. That is amazing and yet we just threw that up. A cyclone comes in, tears it down. Anywhere else in the world they would rebuild it. Only in the Solomon Islands, 'Oh no. It's too hard'.
A hotelier and former politician, Sir Tommy Chan, says rice farming is something that new Chinese investors can tap into, but says the environment must be safe for them to do so.
TOMMY CHAN: I know Chinese can grow rice, they can grow anything. Because we do import rice from Australia. It is one of the biggest markets - rice. We've got lots of land here. We can grow good rice, plenty of rice. What we need is if this country can open up, give some sort of security for these people.
But safety is not the only challenge. The Chairman of the Solomon Islands Manufacturers Association, Sika Manuopangai, says the country has a lot of rice-growing potential, but there are bigger problems holding back progress.
SIKA MANUOPANGAI: One of them is land issues. Of course we know there are a lot of disputes to ownership of lands because of the current land ownership system here.
Under that system about 80 percent is customary land, which some believe certain landowners have sold illegally for profit. The founder of the non-government organisation Solomon Islands Development Trust, John Roughan, says the country cannot afford to continue importing rice but potential farmers know it requires hard work.
JOHN ROUGHAN: They're beginning to realise that rice production [requires] high labour involvement. We don't have the mechanical process to do it so it has to be labour. Secondary school is perfect because they have a good labour force. In villages the labour force is not there and so it's going to be very difficult to prove this.
John Roughan says some secondary schools are already successfully farming rice to help feed students, including King George the Sixth and St Josephs Tenaru, which are located on the outskirts of the main Honiara township.
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