The continued importation of rice is risky and isn't sustainable for the country's targeted food security goals.

This was the message stressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment Dr. Mahendra Reddy yesterday while officiating at the handing over of 3 portable rice mills to 3 separate farming communities in the Western Division, whereby he stressed that the dependence on imported rice was not sustainable in the long run.

"We are placing a lot of importance on rice cultivation, not only at the commercial level but also at the subsistence level because now, compared to some 40 or 50 years ago, nearly every household is consuming rice as part of their diet.

"However, we are only producing 16 per cent of the total rice that we are consuming and are importing about 84 per cent of the total rice that we consume from countries like Vietnam and we're spending a substantial amount of money importing rice into the country, close to $61m annually actually," said Minister Reddy.

"It is a huge risk to have to depend on foreign markets for our staple food and for one such as rice is very risky, during the pandemic, we were worried that Vietnam especially would cut off the importation of rice to other countries and so we started pushing rice production, if Vietnam had cut off rice importation then we would have seen the price of rice shooting up, people would try to hold rice, people would try to ration rice, there would be price manipulation and preferential treatment for customers when it came to the sale of rice, simply put, there would have been chaos in the market, with respect to rice," he emphasised.

Minister Reddy said it was only prudent that the cultivation of rice was strongly promoted; "We immediately pushed the cultivation of rice on the ground and simultaneously, we strongly promoted for every farming household with access to land to allocate one acre to produce rice for their own consumption.

"If you are a sugarcane farmer, a vegetable farmer, cassava or dalo farmer, at least allocate 0.5 acres to 1 acre to plant rice," said Minister Reddy.

He explained that one acre of land if fully cultivated, could produce one tonne of paddy from which 600 kilograms of rice could be milled and consumed, which for one small household was enough to cater for a year's worth of consumption, and with the short term rice variety promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture could fetch 2 crop harvests and even potentially 3 crop harvests per year. 

Meanwhile, Nawaicoba advisory councillor Jainesh Krishna said the rice mill handed over by the Ministry of Agriculture would ensure that farmers would always be able to put food on their table. 

"Having served the area of Nawaicoba during the pandemic, I can tell that I witnessed first hand the difficulties faced by the people in my area," said Mr. Krishna.

"The inroads made by the Ministry of Agriculture is a blessing as we can now say that all the assistance being delivered by the Ministry has seen agricultural development improve, particularly within the area," he added.

The three portable rice mills were handed over to the 3 farming clusters of Bavu Village and Nawaicoba settlement in Nadroga and Nasau in Nadi respectively.