Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in www.connectme.com.fj/news/opinion. I thank Allen and Connect for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

 "Sugar is Sweet and So are You*"

Where do we expect to see sugar production in twenty years time? The use of sugar will never cease. It is used in every walk of life. Many people have asked why the sugar industry is dying. There is a simple answer – sugarcane farmers no longer have land to plant on. It’s all gone back to the landowner. They have their reasons for leaving it idle, it’s up to them.

One sugarcane farmer and his family now have jobs in various companies around Lautoka. They often go back to visit the landowners and have a basin of yaqona with them. They are still friends. They have a meal together then they organize another “sitting”, sometimes it’s at the former cane farmer’s home. Oh, they get on like a house on fire.

When I meet the former cane farmers they usually say, “We miss the farm. We miss the hard work.” They planted sugarcane and alongside that they had their vegetable farm, which the landowner also ate from. Today they  plant their vegetable in their town backyard and sell the surplus on the road. It's grog money, they tell me. And the landowner? He works  in a supermarket packing potatoes and sweeping floors and now buys vegetables from the roadside.  Oh, they still help each other out.

Sad situation,  if you tell me.  Why not get the landowner to lease the land to the real farmer. He will earn lease money and get free vegetables from his friend. Every so often when the cane farmer catches crabs the landowner will be invited to have a basin of grog, a cartoon of beer and surua crab curry.

What a waste. I wonder who is advising the landowners not to lease their land.  But I know what can be done. Rain trees make good large ornamental vases. Or maybe we can export paragrass.




* Roses are red, voilets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you. Old English children's rhyme.

Comments

Sticky Problem said…
The answer is in the story. The cane farmer may miss the hard work but it was not profitable work. A good small cane farmer makes $3000 odd per annum after expenses. This is $60 per week. The landowner makes verry little on his lease. I know one landowner who makes $120 twice a year. Sugar is no longer a profitable business at the ground level. The farmers are now apathetic and no longer believe in their industry. It was a major slap in the face to not recieve the $12 per ton they expected. They feel betrayed by FSC and this will encourage a faster exodus from sugar.
Revolution brewing in the canefields said…
The answer is also in the one sided relationship described in Allen's account, the indigenous person and his mataqali who own the land and the Indo-Fijian who can only ever be a tenant in his own country. It doesn't matter how well they get on. One has a position of absolute power, the other no power at all. Land lying idle is indicative of one thing. The mataqali want more rent and because they don't have to service a mortgage, are prepared to hold out for as long as it takes. And poor sugar prices mean that the Indo-Fijian tenant can't pay what the owner wants, even if he's still prepared to pay with his sweat to support the owner's indolent existence. This is the vicious spiral Fiji is now in and why a radical approach is needed to free up more land. Indigenous Fijians don't realise that it's the global marketplace that ultimately determines whether their privileged lifestyle continues. And Indo Fijian farmers are naturally sick of working their guts out only to find themselves under the poverty line. Crunch time.
Sticky Problem said…
The mataqali also has few choices under the current situation. He has to give away his land for no less than 50 years for 6% of unimproved value. After commissions taken by NLTB he recieves a pittance. In any other country the land would be leased for periods of one or two crop cycles and then be leased to the highest bidder for the next cycle. This is not allowed in Fiji. In NZ they have an established method of share farming where the tenant works the land and the owner provides the land, housing, seeds and fertaliser. Both parties share the income at an agreed percentage. This is not allowed in Fiji. There needs to be other options offered than the removal of land from the owner for several generations.
Sticky Problem said…
The mataqali also has few choices under the current situation. He has to give away his land for no less than 50 years for 6% of unimproved value. After commissions taken by NLTB he recieves a pittance. In any other country the land would be leased for periods of one or two crop cycles and then be leased to the highest bidder for the next cycle. This is not allowed in Fiji. In NZ they have an established method of share farming where the tenant works the land and the owner provides the land, housing, seeds and fertaliser. Both parties share the income at an agreed percentage. This is not allowed in Fiji. There needs to be other options offered than the removal of land from the owner for several generations.
Invictus said…
Here’s a thought make the Indians guardians of the land for most of the Land owners are just to indolent to utilize their land besides most with the loudest mouth’s have along with their pilfering parents have slithered out the country.

They have now setup shop abroad leaving behind their god forsaken land for it to gather moss, inbred imbeciles
Dream on said…
You have as much chance of getting Fijian land as you have of going to the commonwealth games or getting EU sugar subsidies back.

So move on and get over it....and go clean my shoes and bring me a beer - after you have cleared another acre of land for cane so you can pay the rent...theres a good boy!
Invictus said…
There are approximately 100000 plus displaced cane farmers living below the bread line thanks to the likes of Rabuka and Qarase's racial policies which in the end rendered this one time thriving industry basically inert.

It would be prudent for Bainimarama to circumvolve between the leasee and the leasor for a period of no less than three years to see firsthand if whether or not the leasor can cut the mustard if not than give the Indians full guardianship of the land prosperity will undoubtedly follow for all concerned.

As for those indigenes that have surrendered their rights to be among the collective and made a foreign land their home remove immediately all rights to any land.
Invictus said…
"Dreamer" On.

The only shoe you and ilks will be cleaning will that of an old Indian Cane Farmer.

It is within the Fiji culture to utilise their God given right of "Kerekere" or have you forgoten Inoke Devo hasnt.
Another racist nightmare said…
Dream on, you really are a twat. A boorish, smug, racist oaf. I don't care if I get removed for playing the man and not the argument. With those remarks, you've forfeited your right to be part of any civilised discussion. It's people like you who've made the coup necessary and boy, is it great to see you squirm. Clean your shoes and bring you a beer? Dream on. Your place is in Naboro - sodomised and toothless - with the other losers like the Qaranivalu and George Speight.
Storm clouds over Lautoka said…
Bula vinaka Allen. Bet you didn't think your little Easter homily this week would unleash such a tidal wave of unChristian emotion. It just goes to show that some pretty unpleasant things lurk just below the surface in Fiji. But happy Easter to you. I do look forward to reading you every week.
No-one to blame said…
Sticky problem, I don't understand how a mataqali can charge more for leases when the commodity being farmed isn't attracting enough to pay for the increase in the market place. If the global price for sugar was high, none of this would be happening. Indo-Fijian farmers would be able to make a decent living as well as being capable of paying more to their indigenous landlords. I just think your last point is a red herring. It's a great shame that now we're descending into a racial slanging match but this is merely a reflection of tensions that have been simmering for some time. What both sides don't seem to understand is that neither is at fault. It's just the way it is - the old problem of global supply and demand. Recognise that and maybe we can take the race out of it and work things through sensibly. But don't hold your breath, judging from some of the comments here.
Go west, young man said…
'Divide and rule' someone once said.

On the evidence of the posts today - an election in our lifetimes? Not on your nelly...
Hang in there, Allen said…
Lowers orders – good to see you all back in the crib slinging racist taunts at each other.

Just be careful that while you’re busy fighting over the bone a foreign dog doesn’t come in and snatch it from under both your noses. If that happens both sets of descendents will be back wearing loincloths with only bone they possess being fixed through their noses.
Sticky Problem said…
@No One to Blame.

This is the problem. The low price for sugar. Should the landowner sign away his land for 50 years on the basis of the low current price of sugar? That is where a percentage type sharefarming system may work. Also if another crop comes along that is significantly more profitable then the two partners could agree to pursue the issue. Why have the land locked into "sugar" for the next 50 years?

This is the most emotive topic in Fiji and we are not going to solve it on a blogsite.
Dust Bowl said…
‘No one to blame’ – it seems fair that a mataqali should charge whatever the market determines for its land. As you say, demand should set the price for a commodity and land is capable of being developed in any number of ways: farming, industrial, resort, residential. Why does any debate over land always seem to revolve around the pros and cons of sugar farming?

A tenant farmer, who knows he’s got to pay a certain annual sum in land rental, shouldn’t persist in farming the same crop if it’s offering a reduced income. The writing for cane has been on the wall now for many years. The drop in EU subsidies, the falling worldwide prices etc. Anyway decent land husbandry techniques dictate that a farmer should, at the very least, rotate his crops. Alternative crops would open up new markets for him and he could very well find that they’re more lucrative than cane.
Go Norm said…
Norman Tebbitt once said ‘On Yer Bike’ to those living in the UK’s north. Meaning that if they couldn’t find work where they lived, they should move.

Taking that a step further, rather than buggering off down the road to get a job somewhere else, the tenant could look at alternative ways of getting an income other than just farming sugar. One example could be home stays for back backers. Ok laugh.

Now that you’ve wiped the tears out of your eyes, think about where teenagers and young 20’s from first world countries often travel. To the 3rd world. The reason being they want an experience that they feel they can’t get in their own society. So while Fiji Islanders might fancy a week away in a zooty resort, youngsters from overseas are fascinated by local life, fishing at night, crabbing in the mangroves and walking the reefs – all wrapped up with the great hospitality that rural people offer, in return for some cash and talanoa from outside the area. It’s worked in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, why not here?

The great thing is that it would take no land to get homestays started – all the land could still be used for farming and the farmer could still get stung by hornets whenever he wanted to cut some cane. How good is that?
Be fair said…
Dust Bowl, so what do we do with the tenant farmers now reduced to poverty? Retrain them to work in tourism? Hardly. I'm not criticising you but you can hardly blame uneducated, rural workers for not having seen the writing on the wall. Did anyone tell them they'd better get out of sugar? No way. Because that would have damaged the national economy. What I think is totally unjust ( and no, I'm not Indo-Fijian ) that that the country has subjected these guys to back-breaking work for many years for Fiji's benefit, not theirs. They can't afford to buy freehold land, are locked in a cycle of poverty and disadvantage and, under law, can never have the security that's the birthright of their fellow citizens. I ask all those people like Dream On, where's the justice in that? Where else in the world is disadvantage so institutionalised?
Anonymous said…
Why would anyone want to work the land for a pittance when you cam make $750 per week selling BBQ chops and cassava on the side of the road, "tax free", no rent, no setup cost, no expenses.
Still below the belt said…
Ah, "lower orders" again rears its ugly head, along with the racial taunts. Is that you, "Jon", back in circulation hiding behind another skirt? Or has someone decided to commandeer "Jon's" unseemly smear for their own use?
Sea change said…
Be Fair – I don’t think some tenant farmers have ‘now’ been reduced to poverty, I think that they’ve been there for many years. I’m not suggesting it’s their fault they didn’t see that sugar has run its course as a viable cash crop in a non mechanised 3rd world setting. They are, as you say, mainly uneducated workers.

I lay the blame for that squarely at the door of their ‘advisors’ – politicians and officials in the sugar industry who had a vested interest in seeing the status quo remain unchanged.

Now that there’s the chance to make a fundamental change in the direction of the farming industry, I’d hate to see the same scenario promoted by different advisors.

As you said though, this isn’t something that can be properly solved in a blog.
Aqualung said…
I liked the sound of lower orders when I read it. It’s particularly useful when describing the racist etymology that was being written earlier.

Still below the belt, skirt, smears? You’ll be writing about panties and little girls next, you daring old cross dresser.
Allen said…
@ Storm clouds over Lautoka ... and the rest of the contributors
A Happy and Blessed Easter to you all...
snoopy said…
Allen - you are spot on. The farmer and the landowner need to work out a system where they are both 'winners'. Letting the land go to waste is not the answer. But i am sure there are grievances on both sides - the rent should also be fair and who gets a vut (NLTB??). These imature racist comments above are a poor sign for Fiji.
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