Government steps in with millions to assist sugarcane growers

The Minister of Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum today announced a $10 million grant for sugarcane farmers in the Western Division.

Staff Writers

May 15, 2017 11:10 pm

The Sugar Tribunal had approved a fourth cane payment of $10.57 per tonne to be paid on Friday. The gross payment to growers would have been $14.57 million.

However, the Government found out that a significant portion of the payout, $6.7 million, would have been withheld for repayments and other deductions. As this would have made a lot of people unhappy, the Government decided to step in to make things better.

The AG said the Government would cover $6.7 million worth of deductions for iTaukei Land Trust Board ($375k), Fiji Development Bank ($1.3m), Sugarcane Grower’s Fund ($3.8m), Lands Department ($99k), South Pacific Fertilizers ($966k), and Cane Farmers’ Co-operative Savings & Loans Association Ltd ($48k).

Also, the Government would pay off $3.2 million worth of loans taken from the Sugarcane Grower’s Fund as direct relief against TC Winston last year. This would apply to 3944 farmers from Lautoka, Ba, Tavua, and Rakiraki. No word on farmers in Labasa.

The assistance would be a direct grant to sugarcane growers, not a loan.

The AG said the Government was able to do this because the economy was doing very well in spite of TC Winston causing widespread damage last year.

During the press conference, the Minister was visibly angry at Fiji Times, National Federation Party leader Dr Biman Prasad, and Fiji Labour Party czar Mahendra Chaudhary. He accused them of using the sugar industry to further their political agendas.

Dr Prasad said farmers had been suffering under low income and high costs and found it difficult to make ends meet after payments and deductions.

He pointed out that the government was under pressure to attend to the needs of the growers. The NFP leader said he was not surprised at the grant, and thanked himself for getting assistance for farmers.

Mr Chaudhary also took credit for pressuring Government in handing out the “gift packs”. In a surprise move, he shared some credit with NFP.

The Fiji Times merely shrugged their shoulders at repeatedly being called out by the AG.

According to the World Bank, the sugar industry, employs about 40,000 people, with up to 250,000 people relying on it when extended families are included. About 80% of the current crop was destroyed in TC Winston, and two of four crushing mills were damaged. Penang Mill has since been closed.

The Sugar Cane Growers Fund had allowed an interest-free soft loan for up to $1000 after TC Winston to growers based on their tonnage over the past three years. This was designed as a “Simple, quick cash for basic needs”, according to the Fund. Deductions would have started from the fourth cane payment this week.

Damage to the sugarcane industry had been pegged at $120m with $87m assigned to crop damage. Damage to farms and farm property has been estimated at $12m while the impact on FSC infrastructure has been placed between $20m and $25m.

A sincere gesture by the Government to assist thousands of farmers affected by TC Winston, or a swift response to political pressure in the sugarcane belt?  Let us know in the comments or email [email protected]

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