Fiji Times - 26 December 2011
by Kuini Waqasavou
WITH the fluctuating prices of dalo throughout the year, Taveuni farmer Alipate Uluibau says the crop will always play an important role in the lives of Taveuni islanders.
Alipate, 42, has been farming on mataqali owned land in his village of Qeleni and says that nothing beats farming.
After spending 24 years in Suva, Alipate decided to return to his island and start a new chapter of his life.
Although it was quite difficult at first, Alipate soon got used to farming as the days and weeks passed. He felt almost refreshed to say the least.
"I had to play catch up to men my age as they were already far ahead with their farming activities," Alipate said with a laugh.
He worked hard over the first few months and is forever grateful for the assistance rendered to him by his fellow Qeleni farmers.
"I was given dalo planting materials and some of my cousins also helped out with my first planting program," he said.
Days and weeks turned into months and eventually a year passed after Alipate started his farm. Today, he is proud of the decision he made to return to his island and start his own farm. "Nothing beats farming and when it is harvesting season, the feel of cold hard cash in your hands after a successful sale is just too good to be true," Alipate said. He recently sold $3000 worth of dalo to an export company that bought dalo for $1.50 per kilogram.
"I had to start afresh this year because my farm suffered a lot during Hurricane Tomas last year. I lost everything including thousands of yaqona plants which I had painstakingly planted," he said.
The day after Hurricane Tomas hit Taveuni, Alipate made his way to the farm and shook his head in disbelief. "It was the most devastating scene that I have ever witnessed especially as I knew that my years of hard work had all been plucked right off the ground," he said. "But I decided that it was not going to do any good if I just moped around so after weeks of cleaning up, I started farming again." Of course, during natural disasters, natural resource owners can only stand back and let Mother Nature take its course. "The hardest thing though is having to start all over again even though you know deep down inside you that there will be more uninvited natural disasters that could take place at any instant," he said.
Another issue that farmers on the island have had to grapple with for the past few years is the degradation of land that has been continually farmed for more than 30 years. This Alipate says, will be a good time for the farmers to learn more about the land they have been tilling over the years. "We are mindful of the fact that our forefathers had also been living off the land and had been cultivating for food security. "Of course, now with the land being managed by a new generation of farmers, we will have to consider more ways and means of protecting the soil in order for our children, grandchildren and the many more generations to come to enjoy what we are now enjoying," Alipate said.
He works closely with the Department of Agriculture officials on the island and through his perseverance and hard work, he was assisted in 2009 through one of Government's Demand Driven Approach (DDA) Programmes.
According to agricultural officer on the island Resina Ciri, Alipate has been a source of inspiration for other farmers in the village because he continues to farm despite the setbacks that he had to go through after Hurricane Tomas.
"He was assisted under the Export Promotion Program whereby he received agro-inputs and chemicals. His end of the deal was to provide his own dalo planting materials," Ms Ciri said. She said staff on the island were working hand in hand with Teitei Taveuni which is a team made up of farmers from the island that are passionate about upholding and keeping Taveuni the way it is now. "Biological farming is a chemical-free method of farming that focuses on improving the micro-biology of the soil as a way of increasing plant growth and producing a better yield," she said.
Alipate's farm was also chosen as a demonstration farm for research work purposes dealing with soil health and various chemicals that could put much needed nutrients and minerals back into the soil. The shy farmer says he had learnt a lot from the agricultural officials that have been working to ensure that farmers in Taveuni maintained their million dollar industry. So far, Alipate has incorporated other natural processes to his farm like crop rotation, best tillage methods reducing toxins, promoting soil life and balancing the soil's minerals.
"It's a long journey but I know that through more co-operation between farmers and stakeholders, we will definitely be able to properly manage our natural resources," he said. When everyone's enjoying the festive season, Alipate will be on his farm working to ensure food security for his family and a steady income. "It takes a lot of passion for farming. To become a good farmer, you also need to know and learn the risks involved," he said.
"I am a risk-taker and I know that there will be a lot of ups and downs during my venture but at the end of the day, the satisfaction of a job well done is all that matters."
* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer at the Ministry of Primary Industries.