Information, Communications & Extension

The ICE thematic group contributes to achieving LRD objectives of improving food security and well-being of member countries by promoting innovative extension approaches to communicate information and promote new technologies for the sustainable management of agricultural and forest resources.
 

Horticultural cash crops supplement incomes of sugarcane farmers
Friday, 01 August 2014 08:31
Sugarcane farming in Fiji is mainly smallholder family farm operation, with labour at most times relying on family support and hired at peak times planting and harvesting. However, sugarcane farming is also becoming very challenging with farmers realising only marginal profits. Given these challenges with the sugarcane industry in Fiji, farmers are turning to intensive farming practices to supplement incomes whilst waiting for the sugarcane to harvest.  Farmers are intercropping sugarcane farming with high value cash crops such as vegetables and legumes and realising extra income.

The European Union funded Improvement of Key Services to Agriculture (KSA) project is working with sugarcane farmers and other farmers to supplement their income through growing fruit and vegetable crops on unused or marginal land and through intercropping with cane.

Implemented by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community the farmers are being assisted with training and resources in seed and seedling production of viable horticultural crops selected for their production viability and market demand.

European Union IKSA project team leader, Mr Waisiki Gonemaituba said the project’s main objective is to help cushion the economic and social impact of the sugar sector by supporting a diversified market driven agriculture sector. The program is designed to alleviate poverty for the most vulnerable groups in sugar dependent areas.

Recently, IKSA organised two farmer training workshops in Labasa on nursery management and pineapple farming. The nursery management training was conducted at the farm of Ms Shakuntala Devi of Wailevu, Labasa. Ms Devi has been farming sugarcane for over 15 years. But production costs were getting too high plus labour hire was hard to come by. Ms Devi took an interest in vegetable production following a training organised by the IKSA project. She still maintains her 10acre sugarcane farm but her income is now supplemented through vegetable farming and selling vegetable seedlings, fruit trees and herbs to surrounding farms from a small nursery operation she started.  She is keen to raise small ruminants sheep and goats as well on her farm.

The one day nursery management training invited over 50 farmers, consisting of 15 women, and 20 youths, and was conducted by veteran horticulturists, Mr Sant Kumar at the front lawn of Ms Devi’s property. Typical of the landscape in this area, Ms Devi’s 20 acre farmland is on hilly land.

The nursery management and vegetable seedling training was organised by IKSA technical field officer, Mitieli Duvuloco. Mitieli looks after the Labasa farmers for the IKSA project here in the Mucuata Province. He says there are seven tikina’s (landowning unit) out of 11 in the Mucuata Province which fall under the sugarcane belt. Potentially, 300 farmers stand to benefit from the IKSA project. Fellow IKSA technical officer, Mr Pio Tikoisuva based in Lautoka office, helped in organising the farmer training. Mr Tikoisuva previously organised similar farmer training in Lautoka and Ba on vegetable nursery management. Working closely with the IKSA project is agricultural assistant for the Ministry of Agriculture for Macuata Province, Sandip Chand. Mr Sadeep said his extension area covers some 3,000 farmers who mainly grow three crops – sugarcane, rice, and kava.  The growing season for rice is November to April.

Mr Kumar conducted a very lively exchange and show and tell with the farmers sharing knowledge on different varieties of cash crops, market demand for various crops, planting times, and availability of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers. At present, local tomatoes are selling at $11/kilo farmgate, and eggplant at $1.50 a kilo. These are very good prices, said Sant as he aims to start a revolution of smallholder nurseries supplying seedlings for commercial vegetable production. Sant says there are not enough vegetables to meet the demand. Different types of nursery designs were shown, affordability, access to water, and common pests and diseases found in a nursery environment. Farmers learned how to ‘cook’ soil to sterilise it using an open 44-gallon drum to prevent seedlings from soil pathogens nematodes, pests and weeds. The farmers showed very keen interest in raising seedlings with some enthusiasts already making plans to start their own small nurseries.

On the second day the farmer training switched to pineapple production and held at Tuivadra farm in Nakama, Labasa.  Long time pineapple farmer, A. van Santen coordinated this training on production aspects speaking from experience managing his own successful pineapple farm.  He said that pineapple is a light sensitive crop and day length affects flowering. He discussed off-season production and the practice called ‘forcing’ fruit production using chemicals such as Ethrel in a mixture with urea fertiliser. Discussion also focus on plant food for optimum plant growth and the role the major elements nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium have on plant growth, which are supplied to the soil from chemical fertilisers or manure. According to van Santen, plants will only grow and produce according to the lowest available nutritional element in the soil, or the ‘law of minimum.’  Thus, crop yields are often limited by a minimum availability of nutrients, and once corrected, production increases until the next limiting nutrient occurs.

Pineapples are ready for the first harvest in 18 – 24 months after planting, and a second harvest of the ratoon crop in another 12 months, and for efficiency it is best practice not to go beyond the second ratoon crop.  All pineapples produced, says van Santen are to feed local demand, which is not enough, and that is not even considering exports.

Farmers spent the afternoon learning about pineapple farming at the 10 acre farm of local villager, Samu Boa. The pineapple farm was very well maintained, and the farmer was very proud of his achievement, and he had a few family hand to help out. Samu’s farm is being earmarked to provide pineapple seedlings and the IKSA project will be assisting to establish a nursery for the multiplication of pineapple planting material. The project is targeting over 100 farmers to receive pineapple planting material to start their own pineapple farms, with the long term objective of export markets.

A. van Santen said pineapple farming requires continuous care from the farmer, and being a slow growing crop weeds are a major problem, which can destroy the crop. Farmer needs to have weed control throughout the growing season.

For more information, please contact Waisiki N. Gonemaituba ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), or Emil Adams ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

 
ICELRD’s core business is to improve the food and nutritional security of the Pacific Community through the sustainable management and development of land, agriculture and forestry resources. This is accomplished through the delivery of technical support, training and advice to our member country governments in the areas of plant protection, conservation and use of plant genetic resources, animal health and production, agroforestry, sustainable systems for agriculture, forestry and land management, and biosecurity and trade facilitation.

The Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) is the leading regional body providing guidance to LRD work plans. The biannual HOAFS Meeting endorses LRD work plans and budget. The office of the LRD Executive acts as the Secretariat for HOAFS.