Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka to you all.

I would like to thank you all for being present here this afternoon.

Introductory Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you all know, we are in an extremely challenging era. The world has possibly never been so vulnerable and Fiji is no exception. COVID-19 has 2 caused widespread disruption to people’s livelihoods, driven primarily by movement restrictions and concerns about leaving their houses. The pandemic is also disrupting people’s food environments and is already resulting in food security scares across various countries. We have seen examples of food supply disruptions due to supply chain issues, and production being halted as countries grapple with the global pandemic. Here at home, COVID-19 has brought our vulnerabilities to the forefront, as well as paved opportunities that we need to capitalize on.

In this address today, I wish to focus on the opportunities ahead of us and how the Ministry of Agriculture wishes to seize this opportunity to fulfil two of our critical primary and strategic objectives; those are securing the country for its food and nutritional security requirements, progressively expanding agriculture to its full potential to raise our national income and become the leading export earner for the country. At the same time, addressing our secondary objectives in improving the livelihood of our rural communities, provision for employment opportunities and using sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate climate change issues.

Strategies for Food and Nutritional Security

Ladies and gentlemen, over the last six weeks, the Ministry of Agriculture has strengthened its effort to mobilize households and farmers to engage 3 in productive agricultural activities to raise production to enhance food and nutrition security for all who are dependent on them to provide a steady supply of fresh produce.

As you are all aware, the Ministry’s rapid response plan in the wake of this global pandemic was through the announcement and implementation of an Agriculture Response Package, which was built on up-scaling several initiatives that were already in place. This was done to ensure that Fijians have access to adequate food of acceptable quality and nutritional value throughout this crisis.

In addition to this, the country has been greatly impacted and hampered by TC Harold when it hit Fiji on 8th April 2020, but our efforts to reach out with our support packages have been continuing with high demand and public interest.

Home Gardening Seed Packages

One of these initiatives which we announced earlier was the Home Gardening Program, whereby we provided Gardening Seed Packages to all households in urban and peri-urban areas around Fiji.

I am pleased to announce that as of the end of last week, and within less than a month since launching this package, we have distributed 11,602 seed packages across Fiji. This comprised of 4,774 packages in the Central 4 Division, 979 in the Western Division, 4,782 in the Eastern and 150 in the Northern Division respectively, additionally, 917 seed packages were distributed to employees of various NGOs, entities, and organizations. Cumulatively, this comprised of 129,024 individual packs of various commodity seeds that have been distributed to date to the general public.

This initiative will greatly enhance food security by giving our people the following opportunities;
1. Direct access to a diversity of nutritionally rich foods;
2. Increased purchasing power from savings on food bills; and
3. Fall-back food provision due to the potential decrease in production and trade caused by the TC Harold and COVID 19.
4. Continuity and sustaining food supply through home gardening now and into the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the distribution of such a large number of seed packages, there remain a large number of households who are interested in making full use of vacant land around their house to grow their food.

We have now resumed in the preparation, and procurement of planting material and seed packaging, and we will resume this initiative within 2 weeks to ensure that the targeted households stated earlier also receive this package.

Ladies and Gentlemen, since the launch of this Seed Package, we have received calls from the Corporate sector to provide a specific number of packages for their emplyees who have lost jobs. We wish to announce that we will re-package the existing back yard garderning Seed Package for these employees calling it as Corporate Employee Seed Package (CESP). What we need from the Corporate sector is how many employees have lost jobs and where the office is and we will deliver the Packages to the office from where the employee can pick it up.

I would also like to urge all Fijians who have received this seed packages to make effective use of it. We are providing these seeds with no cost to you, so make the best use of it. Please do not store it away or waste it. If you take these seeds and do not use it, you are depriving other people who are genuinely interested in establishing their backyard gardens.

Securing Household and Village Rice Production and Supply

Ladies and gentlemen, rice is now consumed by every household in Fiji. It is now an essential commodity for every household. In 2019, Fiji imported $42.6m worth of rice into Fiji, equivalent to around 40,000 metric tonnes of rice. About 8,000 metric tonnes of rice is produced and consumed locally and historically, we have achieved around 66% self-sufficiency of rice production, so we know it can be done as the agro-climatic conditions in Fiji are exceptionally favourable for rice cultivation.

A total of 24,000 acres of land is required to achieve 100% self-sufficiency for rice with 2 crops per year. Again, this is an achievable aspiration, one that we must unite to achieve at the earliest. To achieve this, we intend to do the following:
1. We will be providing rice seeds up to 30 Kg (for 1-acre farms) to every Sugarcane farmer. We will assist them to mill their rice for home consumption by providing small portable rice mills close to their area when rice paddy is ready for milling;
2. We will be providing rice seeds up to 30 Kg (for 1-acre farms) to every non-Sugarcane farmer. We will assist them to mill their rice for home consumption by providing small portable rice mills close to their area when rice paddy is ready for milling;
3. We wish to provide rice seeds to all 1,100 villages for communitybased rice farming. The seeds are to be provided:
a. Following a signed commitment by the village Turaga-niKoro;
b. The amount of rice seed to be provided will be equivalent to the population size of the village;
c. That the village attend short training on rice cultivation;
d. That the village allocates a dedicated communal land and appoints a dedicated “Rice Growing Cluster”.

Given our past record of production, I do understand that we cannot realise in the immediate term, but progressively over the next 10 years.

Securing Village Nutritional Security

Ladies and gentlemen, added to the above initiative, the Ministry will also provide every village with a set of three x twelve fruit tree seedlings that would also be provided with fruit trees to complement their nutritional requirement. Whilst some villages may already have some, others may not have any at all.

The Ministry will:
1. Deliver these seedlings to the villages; and,
2. Oversee the planting and will train the community on how to support the seedling, conserve the seeds and protect it from external threats.

Security Household Long-term Food Security

The Ministry notes that apart from providing short term crops, it will also secure every household in Fiji with long term crops, which will continue to provide food to the household year-round.

Therefore, the Ministry will, progressively, provide to every household in Fiji the planting material for the following crops:
1. One coconut seedling (which households can use for variety of purposes); 2. Two cuttings for Drumstick tree (highly nutritious super food)
3. One seedling of Breadfruit (rich in fibre);
4. Two Tivoli (Wild Yam Variety) tuber cutting (annual crop with ability of natural regeneration and accepted as a climate resilient crop).

The logistics of how we will reach out to every household will be provided later. Due to limited planting material in stock now, these planting materials will be provided progressively over the next 8 months to every household.

Village and Settlement Household Poultry Meat Supplementation

In addition to crops, there is also a requirement for livestock to compliment people’s dietary and nutritional requirements. We note that poultry meat is the most widely consumed meat. We will endeavor to provide every interested household (via expression of interest) and settlement, six to twelve-day old chicks. We expect households to then develop their nuclear stock for the future. The Ministry will partner with private sector hatcheries to achieve this delivery.

Expanding Medium and Large Scale Agricultural Production

Ladies and Gentlemen, It is now crystal clear that Fiji’s strategic advantage lies in the primary sectors. Amongst these, Agriculture stands tall and our year-round favourable weather conditions, reasonably good quality arable land and availability of water give a strategic advantage to the sector.

We wish to place Agriculture as the leading economic sector for Fiji and the leading export earner. For this, we will have to:
1. Mobilise medium to large farms to grow in response to market signals;
2. Agricultural activity is treated as a business and those engaged in it see it no less than any other formal sector profession;
3. Ensure production systems are efficient and sustainable and conducive with our environment and climate response strategies; In line with this, we are announcing several initiatives to park Agriculture at the forefront of Fiji’s economy.

Farm Response Package

The Ministry has recently launched its Farm Support Package which aims to boost production of short-term crops by providing seeds and 10 planting materials to farmers around Fiji. The Hon. Minister for Economy has provided $1m for this initiative.

Through our farm support package, we are providing seeds of short term crops to farmers at no cost. Specifically, the Ministry is providing seeds and planting materials of one short term crop for ¼ acre of land. Farmers can select the seed which they require which from targeted crops; Taro, Cassava, Rice, Kumala, Duruka, Eggplant, Chillies, Okra, Tomatoes, Maize, Bitter gourd, Pigeon pea, Cow pea and Squash.

All these have open-pollinated seeds; hence farmers can produce their planting materials after the first assistance given to them by the Ministry. We expect all these farmers to expand their output progressively.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to date, we have distributed a total of 689 packages to farmers in the four divisions. Of this, 165 packages were picked up in the Central Division, 220 in the West, 209 in the Northern Division and 92 in the Eastern Division respectively. Whilst most farmers have been vastly hampered by adverse weather we have experienced recently, this initiative will ramp up now as we focus on our recovery efforts across all affected areas.

The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to fully support and assist our farmers to help them recuperate from TC Harold, as well as to further improve food security. Over the next two weeks, we will procure more planting materials and then resume the next round of distribution.

Support and Incentivising Large Commercial Ventures Establishment of Large Commercial Ventures

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Leveraging agriculture for the export sector will require large scale production. We need investors who have their own machinery, technology, and land. We are ready to provide the following support to them:
1. We will provide planting material at no cost to the investor for the amount they require. Be it for ten acres or hundred acres. We will need advanced notice to organize the planting material and we will provide this progressively. The only requirement is the investor will have to replenish us the equivalent amount of planting material within three years;
2. We will prioritize the construction and or upgrade of farm access roads and drainage, at our cost, for these large scale commercial ventures.
3. We will work with the Agro Marketing Authority, Fiji Rice Ltd and Food Processors to organize their market;
4. We will work with the Agro Marketing Authority and Food Processors to value-add and reach a differentiated market.
5. We will provide dedicated highly skilled technical officers to provide technical advice to the Commercial ventures;
6. We will assist in providing Nutrient enhancing Bacterium medium organic culture to substitute for Inorganic commercial fertilizers.
7. We will work very closely with the iTLTB to source large tracts of land for potential investors, both local and overseas;
8. We will expand the following crops at large commercial level; Rice, Root Crops (Cassava, Dalo, Yams and Kumala), Yaqona, Squash, Pulses, Bongo Chillies, Duruka, and other high demand fresh produce.

Establishment of Orchards

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Ministry also has plans to establish fruit orchards across the country, with commodities such as Avocado, Guava, Mango, Dragon fruit and Breadfruit and Banana. There are a large number of farmers who have available land for the establishment of these mid-large scale orchards, which will greatly support in promoting our strategic objective of enhancing food and nutrition security and contributing to Fiji’s economic growth.

Again through donor funds, the establishment of these large and smallscale orchards will be done over 6-8 months across the main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and is expected to cost just over F$0.6 m.

Establishment of Nurseries

Ladies and gentlemen, A critical area in addressing the ongoing food security challenges is to establish a strong, secure, sustainable and extensive seed bank in Fiji. It is an important component of a robust seed system for food security.

Seed banks conserve and utilize plant genetic diversity, which is important for several reasons. These saved and viable seeds contain a treasure trove of useful genes that breeders can use for developing improved varieties of our major food crops. Why are seed banks really important? Because seed banks allow for faster recovery from an environmental or natural disaster that can strike in an instant, something, as we’ve lately found out, no one is immune to.

The Ministry of Agriculture will work intensely on achieving this objective and will expand existing and establish new large nurseries around so that we are not only future-proofing ourselves from any potential food crisis in the future but also are ready to support our farmers with planting materials.

Supporting Medium to Large Scale Livestock Farms

Improvement of Farm Genetic Attributes

The Ministry has an objective to increase production and productivity for goat, sheep, beef and dairy products in Fiji. We are establishing new breeds for cattle, goats, and sheep to be given out to farmers and these new breeds will replace the low yielding breeds which have lost their original genetic traits due to inbreeding over time.

This will allow Fiji to again achieve the self-sustainability of meat products, and one must not forget the mega potential this sector has for exports to other countries around the world. The dairy industry has seen a decline over many years due to TB and Brucellosis but has only recently started to turn the curve, and we need to radically accelerate this programme.

Over the next few months, we will be reviewing our approach on the dairy industry and explore pathways to achieve our full potential in this sector, again reducing our reliance on imports and work towards becoming wholly self-sufficient, even if that means reinventing the dairy model in Fiji to achieve high production of milk and quality, good production index, structured milk production, and labour efficiency.

Establishment of Medium to Large Livestock Farms

Ladies and gentlemen,

you can see how important the livestock sector is to the Government, and its potential, which can assist in decreasing Fiji’s importation of meat and dairy products by increasing local production. We will continue to strongly support the establishment of medium to large livestock farms.

Over the last twelve months, the Ministry has given out fencing materials to over 400 farmers to establish medium paddocks to expand their livestock holding from small subsistence level to medium commercial holding. The Ministry has recently obtained $600,000 from a donor and will now provide fencing material to 528 more farms over the next 3 months.

We expect this project to begin in a month and we expect farmers to establish paddocks within three months from the delivery of the fencing materials.

Call to Investors and Development Partners

Ladies and gentlemen,

there is no better time to invest in agriculture than now. I am inviting members of the corporate sector to establish an Agricultural Business Entity, which can be vertically integrated into their business models. You can either establish your commercial farm, or contract out, or have both, have a warehouse and processing center and export the product. We are here, and ready to support you. The only prerequisite is that it must be a commercial business model.

We are also calling out to Development Partners to come forward and support the Ministry in this critical juncture.

There can be no better investment than in the proposed, market-driven commercial agriculture venture, serving the dual purpose of Food Security and Economic Growth driven by growth in the Agricultural Sector.

Concluding Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, As I had mentioned last week, these are unprecedented times and it calls for extraordinary measures. More importantly, we have to work together as partners to achieve our objective that will be mutually beneficial and strengthen our position, regarding sustainable food systems and economic growth.

The status quo is certainly not an option. I understand there is a lot of enthusiasm amongst new and existing farmers and we, at the Ministry of Agriculture, are very pleased to note the overwhelming response. We will rise to the challenge…we see an opportunity for all Fijians and the country from this crisis. We will come out much stronger and resilient once the dust has settled.

Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude, I urge you all to adhere to government advisories and to take all necessary precautions and steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from the pandemic that grips the entire world. Whilst it may seem like we are in rough waters at the moment, I am positive that together we will ride the tide and bounce back stronger than ever before….as we always have!

Thank you, Vinaka vakalevu, dhanyavaad.