15 Jul 2015

Short on labour, Fiji cane farmers look to machinery

9:00 am on 15 July 2015

The Fiji Cane Growers Council is encouraging farmers to invest in harvesting machinery as the industry faces labour shortages.

A villager in the cane fields near Lautoka, Fiji

A villager in the cane fields near Lautoka, Fiji Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

The National Farmers Union estimates up to 40 percent of the county's harvesting labour gangs don't have enough people to operate.

Each year around 15,000 labourers are required to help harvest cane.

The chief executive of the council, Sandresh Chetti, says it has been a problem for a few years and it must be addressed by the industry.

"This year we have managed to increase the number of mechanical harvesters from about eight last year to about 15 this season. And as we move forward as an industry we will be encouraging farmers to form cooperatives and buy the machines. We are working very closely with all the industry stakeholders and the Ministry of Sugar to address this problem in the coming years."

Sandresh Chetti says farmers also have access to financial assistance to buy the machinery from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund.

The shortage of labour has cast a shadow over the start of harvesting season, with many farmers facing delays of up to six months.

The General Secretary of the National Farmers Union, Mahendra Chaudhry, says the issue is just one of many difficulties for the industry.

"I think the industry is facing quite a few challenges. The size of the industry itself in the last eight years shrank by 50 percent, and it's got some serious problems. Whether the industry will survive is a big question mark and if it doesn't survive, if it goes down the tube, then of course that will have serious implications for Fiji's economy."

Mahendra Chaudhry says efforts by the government to rejuvenate the industry are yet to bear fruit.

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