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Distinguished Guests;
Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations;
Representatives of Non Government Organisations (NGOs); and Financial Institutions;
Fiji Crop Livestock Council Members;
Members of our Farmers’ Organisations;
Ladies and Gentlemen and Friends;

Bula Vinaka, and Good Morning.

It is indeed an honour to be with you this morning to open the ‘Organising Farmers and Farmers’ Organisations as Entrepreneurs and Partners in Agribusiness’ Workshop.

First, I would like to thank you all for attending this very important Workshop, as it provides an opportunity for us to interact and discuss agricultural issues and challenges, and identify untapped opportunities that we can capitalise on to develop realistic goals and strategies to strengthen Fiji’s agriculture sector now, and into the next five years ending 2023.

The Ministry is just on the verge of finalizing its Strategic Development Plan for the period 2019- 2023. This plan establishes the strategic direction for Agriculture over the next 5 years.

This strategic direction is being developed keeping in mind new roles of agriculture. In the early stages of growth, the agriculture sector has played an important role in:

a. Providing a livelihood to most of the population;
b. Ensuring food security;
c. In absorption of labor and creating new employment
d. In transferring surplus for the establishment and expansion of the nonagricultural sector;

However, now, the role of agriculture sector has not only diversified, but also, importance of these roles have changed. Apart from the ones above, we also have Agriculture contributing to the following roles:

a. Contributing to our peoples nutritional and health requirements;
b. Providing positive returns to the owners of agricultural resources;
c. Contributing to government revenue base via agricultural activity and sales;
d. Savings in loss of foreign reserve via substitution of imported production by raising it locally;
e. Growing stock of foreign reserves by exporting agricultural products;
f. Contributing to a balanced environment and ecosystem for the sustained benefit of current and future generations while mitigating any negative effects of climate change.

These additional roles of agriculture calls for:

a. Increased involvement of various stakeholders: No longer we can work alone. What we do in agriculture requires collaboration with other stakeholders, Ministries and private sector groups. The nutritional dimension requires us to work closely with Ministry of Heath and Medical Services. The importance of water for agriculture requires us to work closely with Ministry of Waterways.

b. Understanding local, regional and global market scenarios: We cannot be oblivious to changing market scenario as was in the previous ideological approach to agriculture production where we were boosting production and supply with the understanding that supply will create its demand. No this won’t work anymore. Consumers taste and preferences are changing. We now have the younger generation which I term them as the “Mall” generation implying that increasing number of our population wishes to eat out. How many of our children wants to eat freshly slaughtered chickens, ducks, goats and other animals? Therefore, Agriculture sector cannot be seen as a Primary industry only. Value adding now plays a critical role. We also need to organize and profile block markets that we have and take advantage of the gifted “Fiji” brand as it is seen in the world now. Thanks to Fiji Water and Fiji Rugby for raising our Fiji brand profile outside Fiji. We are blessed with a block of our own people, with same taste and preferences outside Fiji.

They prefer Fijian products but there are a number of things we need to do:
a. We need to reach out to them and convince them why they need to support by consuming our products;
b. We need to maintain the brand image of our product as it was before;
c. We need to reach out to their children via them who were not born in Fiji other wise this block market will gradually start declining as emigration declines.
c. Owners of Agricultural resources, land, labour, machinery and transportation must see they receive a fair share of returns if we want this sector to be stable and expand. They must be given opportunity to participate in the growth and expansion process. Not only they will benefit, they will also have a better understanding of the transformation process.
d. Responsible agriculture if it is to be sustainable. We need to clearly identify the unsustainable agricultural practices and use nature based solutions as far as possible for agriculture to be sustainable. Burning of crop and forest land must stop, practices which contribution to erosion of top soil to our waterways must stop, de-stabilizing and scouring and erosion of river banks must stop and we must harvest rain water and continuously replenish our ground water table.
e. We need move away from the ideology that pouring in money in the sector via grants and subsidies will grow agriculture in the longer run but rather, identify the entire value chain and organize the demand side and let the market signals from the demand side to incentivize and existing and new farmers to enter and produce. We need to deal with this missing link between farmers and the markets.
f. We have to incentivize young farmers to enter the industry and see Agriculture as a Business. It is these farmers who will respond to market signals. Not the vast majority of farmers that we have now because they are part time, semi subsistence leisure farmers. They livelihood is not fully dependent on agriculture.

Ladies & Gentlemen, my challenge to FCLC is to ask yourself, where do you fit in this agenda of nature responsible corporate agriculture. Trust me, business as usual model won’t work. You will become irrelevant in the new setting.

We want to:

1. double our fresh produce exports in two years;
2. increase livestock production, in particular, Beef, Dairy, Goats and Sheep
3. increase root crop production;
4. establish and increase number of fruit tree orchards;
5. increase rice and pulse seed production; and,
6. to establish a fully-fledged Kava industry similar to the model we have for FSC.

We are not going to waste money in crops which we may not have ay comparative advantage, and do not see our farming system conducive to it. We do not want to spread thin.

The work is cut out for you.
Ask your self what you can do to assist us take agriculture forward sharing our vision.

At the farm level, the farmers are in total disarray. There is not data on registration of farmers by area, crop/livestock, or any other variable with us. If we want to have a meeting with them, our officers have to go house to house to inform them or use advisory councilors. It’s a shame we don’t have a simple database. At least go a register them with their contact details against certain key variables so that we can organize and meet them or pass information to them as and when need. How can you asissta us here?

Some farmer have been assisted repeatedly while some farmers have received no assistance at all despite making numerous request…thanks to incomplete database on farmer assistance that we have back in HQ.

How can you assist us by changing the mind set of farmers that they have reduce their dependence on government handouts and take farming as business like the private sector business do and put in their 100%? Can you go around running farmer workshops on this? Can you assist in developing soft skills of farmers while we concentrate on building hard technical skills?

Can you assist by establishing machinery suppliers in each area where farmers can hire this machinery for use? You can leverage funding from external sources for this machinery and provide to a private individual whose only job is to hire out the machinery to the farmers at say 65% of the market rate for a defined period, say 6 years for a tractor.

With this model, Ministry doesn’t have machinery and small and medium farmers are not burdened to buy their own machinery.

You also need to start thinking about developing a social security package for farmers. These are some of the key deliverables that you could do to assist us to take agriculture sector in to this new era that we are talking about and time is running out.

I urge you all to support the Workshop and constructively participate in achieving the Workshop objective - ‘to organize farmers and the farmers’ organizations into dynamic and professional entrepreneurs and partners in agribusiness.

Thank You, Vinaka Vakalevu & Dhanyavad.

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