Gaya Prasad inherited his cane farm from his parents. His farm, which is on undulating terrain, with acidic soil, is at Raranikawai, 15 kilometres north of the Labasa sugar mill. Gaya Prasad is a gang Sirdar (gang head) and a community worker. In 2015 he became a Leader Farmer, after he attended the Leader Farmer training offered by the European Union (EU)-funded “Fairtrade and Farm Advisory Services Project”.
Mr Prasad says that he has seen a gradual increase in cane production on his farm, from 198 tons in 2013 to 300 tons in 2017. This is despite the shortage of cane cutters he faces every harvest.
After becoming a Leader Farmer, Gaya Prasad and the Fairtrade project established a demonstration plot on 0.4 acres of his farm in June 2016. Aglime was applied to condition the soil due to its acidic nature (pH 4.4). With project support, Mr Prasad planted three varieties of cane which he intercropped with bora beans (cowpeas) and watermelon. The Fairtrade project also lent him a pump, pipes and a sprinkler as planting had been done during a very dry spell. With this equipment Mr Prasad was able to draw water from the nearby river and irrigate the field. This allowed the cane to germinate and gave it a good start. To protect the river bank Mr Prasad planted a hedge of Vetiver grass along the top; the long roots will, in time, help stabilise the bank.
The application of Aglime, planting of different cane varieties, intercropping, irrigation and Vetiver grass planting are all practices which Mr Prasad had applied for the first time. He learned about them during the Leader Farmer training and put them into practice with support from the Fairtrade project staff.
Mr Prasad practiced fallow management on another plot. This too was a first for him. After removing the old ratoons he did not immediately replant the land with cane as he usually did, but instead planted it as a “cowpea fallow” and left it for a year. When the cowpea had matured, he ploughed the crop residue into the soil to enrich it before planting cane again.
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Three months after establishing his demonstration plot, Mr Prasad harvested the intercrop and sold the beans for a total of $250. He also earned $450 from the sales of beans from his fallow plot.
Almost a year after establishing his demo plot, on 19 April, 2017, Mr Prasad organised a field day to show other farmers the results of applying “best practices”. Forty farmers attended the event; they were neighbours and other Leader Farmers from his cane sector.
During the event, Mr Prasad and the Fairtrade project staff presented their work and showed the group around the field. The Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) and Sugar Research Institute (SRIF) staff were also on hand to answer questions from farmers.
Now that Mr Prasad has seen the results of applying new practices, he plans to demonstrate them to the members of his Farmer Field School. He will use one of his fields as the “school” and invite farmers to “come, see, do and learn”. He will focus specifically on intercropping, fallow management and planting of new cane varieties which yield more and/or earlier. When asked how his cane farming has changed he answered, “I have started to practice smart farming. Now I understand that by changing the way I used to farm cane I can farm better and earn more.”
The only regret Mr Prasad has, is that he doesn’t have a successor for his farm. But this, he said, was “all the more reason to show other farmers how to farm smart!”