Kubou Maiwiriwiri, right, and a farmhand with a damaged yaqona plant. In the background is more damage
THE devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas will never be forgotten.
Areas in Cakaudrove and Macuata in Vanua Levu, Lomaiviti and smaller islands in the Lau Group were the most battered - people lost homes, schools, churches and farms.
Wasawasa II is a settlement situated close to Mataikoro Village in Cakaudrove and is home to two very hardworking brothers who depend on farming for a living.
They, too, were not spared the wrath of Hurricane Tomas. When they woke the morning after the winds had passed, they were not prepared for what they saw.
The younger of the brothers, 23-year-old Kubou Maiwiriwiri, described that morning as his worst ever experience.
He felt despair sweep over him as he stood outside his house and looked at his farm.
"Our farm is about 52 acres and situated about five minutes drive from the main road," Kubou said.
"It is on a hilltop so I guess it fell in the path of Hurricane Tomas. The damage was huge.
"Fallen coconut trees littered the farm, the huge trees looked like they were burnt because they all looked dry - the worst was our uprooted crops.
"Our yaqona plants were still shaken and tender - they were all facing away from the direction of the wind as if they too wanted to escape from the ground,"
"We had about 23,000 yaqona plants on the ground and we lost the bulk of our crop that was to be harvested this year."
"It was all too much for me and I knew there and then that both our dreams and hopes were dashed overnight."
Anger overtook him at that instant. He picked up his knife and without looking back, he walked to the village vowing he would never return to his farm.
"While walking towards the village with tears streaming down my face, I realised I could not have done anything and it was out of my control," he said.
"Upon reaching my home, I was comforted by my parents. They reminded me it was the will of God in our lives."
Early the next morning, Kubou joined his brother, 25-year-old Waradi Naulu at their farm.
They wasted no time in salvaging whatever crops they could.
The same week, the head of the Primary Industries portfolio, Joketani Cokanasiga visited the affected areas and took time out too see for himself the damage to the brothers' farm.
Mr Cokanasiga offered them words of advice and told them they should continue farming even if it meant starting over.
"I feel whatever you two may be feeling at this point but, please, rest assured help is on the way," he said.
"I urge you to not give up farming."
The brothers began their farming venture in 2003 just after Kubou left school.
"Being a farmer was never part of my dream as I was intending to leave the country for job opportunities abroad," he said.
After completing a series of tests to join the British Army in the United Kingdom, Kubou was confident his dream of becoming a soldier was going to come true.
A few weeks before he was to depart for the UK, the political upheaval took place in 2006.
That was his cue to join his brother on their farm.
"At first I was heartbroken, but then after a few weeks, I realised maybe farming is my calling after all," he smiled. "We started planting 700 yaqona plants without any assistance and slowly worked our way towards our goals."
Waradi added: "And I am pleased to say that we have been harvesting for two years since starting up the farm."
The brothers have a secure market in Nadi and have been selling their waka at $30 per kilogram and $22 a kg of lewena.
They admitted that they would have to start all over again but would work more closely with agriculture officials on the various technicalities of farming.
"For us, farming is all part of a big learning experience. We know that this is an experience we will not forget but we have to move on," Kubou said.
The duo were assisted last year by District Office Funds in Cakaudrove for a farm road.
It cost the Government about $47,000. The road was built on their farm and is connected to six other large yaqona farms.
"We were helped under the Land and Water Resources Management Division of the Agriculture Department with the provision of pipes. We were able to set up a temporary water system for our home on the farm," Kubou said.
Senior Agriculture Officer (Cakaudrove) Tepola Seniloli said the determination shown by the brothers was admirable and what they had achieved so far spoke volumes of their ability.
"At such a young age, the brothers have shown their potential," she said.
"I believe that although they suffered from Hurricane Tomas and lost the bulk of their crop, they will surely rise up again to the challenges of farming and continue to strive for better things in life.
"There are many farmers like them who have lost a lot and I am sure that encouragement and confidence part will surely take them a long way."
For Kubou and Waradi, the opportunities are endless and they are back on their feet again.
"We've hired extra hands to uproot our yaqona and dalo because we can't clear the 52 acres alone. We believe we're going to make it," Kubou said.
"I hope other farmers will learn that they have to move on and pick up the pieces of their lives, because the longer we wait, the longer we suffer.
"We will continue to strive and if it means starting from scratch, then so be it - but we are not giving up on the land."