Arvind Kumar is a sugarcane farmer who has lived in the Malolo sugarcane belt area in Nadi, Fiji, all of his life. He describes sugarcane farming as being his “whole life” and what he knows best.
“Sugarcane farming is our life, you know. Our ancestors came from India to farm here and we need to keep that alive and bring our children into it too,” Mr Kumar says.
A team from the SPC-EU Rural Access Roads and Associated Infrastructre (RARAI) project visited sugarcane farmers in the Malolo sector last month to hold “talanoa” (dialogue) sessions with farmers, sugarcane gang members and Sirdars (gang heads) as well as representatives of the Sugarcane Growers Council (SCGC) and the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) to discuss road upgrading works being undertaken in the area by the European Union (EU) funded RARAI project.
Farmers and growers representatives from two groups held candid conversations with the SPC RARAI team and shared their concerns, as well as the benefits of the project.
The RARAI project is a EUR13 million project funded by the EU and implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC). The four-year project is working to upgrade roads and improve watershed management in specific sugarcane sectors of Malolo, Drasa and Koronubu in the West of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.
The project will directly benefit a minimum of 1,000 people in the three sectors through the upgrading of close to 210 kilometres of cane access roads. Drain rehabilitation is also an important element of the project and around 30kms of field drains will be cleaned and cleared to improve water drainage systems in the targeted cane belt areas.
“We are so thankful that you people have come and for the assistance that you’ve given us to make these roads. Once the roads are made the farmers will be so happy. I’m born here (in Malolo) and what’s happening now shows that there is interest in us (with the) roads (that) are being made. In the past, we used to walk eight kilometres, but now we are walking one kilometre because of the road upgrading in this area,” farmer Arvind Kumar said.
“The Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) field officers are also very good. They visit us and support us and talk with us. And now you’ve also come to see us. We’re very happy. Very happy. Three or four years ago farming went very low and sugarcane farming was very bad. Before we used to harvest 300 or 400 tonnes and now we’ve come down, but with the SPC and EU help we are so happy that now we can go up again. We are so happy, our hearts are so happy that this much help is coming to us. That there is someone there who wants to help us,” he said.
Malolo sugarcane farmer Arvind Kumar says that the road upgrading works done by the EU-SPC RARAI project in Malolo in Nadi have made a huge difference to farmers lives.Arvind Kumar
Atunaisa Macedru, an FSC Field Officer who oversees the Malolo sugarcane sector said:
“In regards to the roads, there are ups and downs – not everybody is going to be satisfied with what has been done – but for me, the roads that have been completed have been done satisfactorily with the two contractors that we have. The roads that have been upgraded are very good. The culverts, the drainage done with contractors who have been doing the roads has also been very good.
Atunaisa Macedru says that the roadworks done in the Malolo sector have reduced his travelling time by two hours.
“In terms of reducing the distance we travel and the time that we use to go, I have experienced a difference. I usually leave the office at about 6am to start my gang round and before the road was made, I usually travelled about six hours and got back to the office at about 12 (noon),” ‘Atu explained.
“But this season when the road was done, it just took me from 6am to 10am and I was back in the office at 10am – this has reduced the time taken for me to travel by two hours which gives me more time to do other work in the office. That’s a big plus for this project – a reduction in the distance covered, especially for roads like Shambu Datt Crossing – that really helps the school children who attend Hindu Mashaba School. It’s greatly benefited them as they now just have to cross Shambu Datt Crossing and they’ll be on the other side of the road and about 1km away from their house is the school. Before they would be travelling about five to six kilometres. Now they just travel 1-1.5 kms to reach their school which is another big plus for this project.
“In terms of my work as a Field Officer, this has a great impact on my work – the roads that we have now is just like we’re running on a tarsealed road, even though it’s not. This is of great benefit to me as a field officer. I reach my office way before time. I get to submit reports way before time which is very good for this project,” he said.Atunaisa Macedru