The Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment, Hon Dr. Mahendra Reddy;
Your Excellency, High Commissioner of Canada to Fiji, Ms. Joanne Lemay;
Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Viam Pillay;
Assistant Minister for Maritime and Rural Development, Hon. Vijay Nath;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka, and a very good morning to you all.
It is my pleasure to be here today in Koronivia Research Station to open this new Smart Nursery.
We face a huge challenge in the form of cyclone and other climate driven events that are intensifying before our eyes, that is hitting our people hard every year. These severe weather events can wipe out entire harvests –– threatening the livelihoods of our farmers, driving up the price of food in the market, and hurting our economy.
This Nursery is a vital part of our long-term effort to ensure that Fiji has a food supply that cannot be unduly disrupted by climate change and extreme weather events, like the 14 cyclones that have struck us since 2016.
In other words, when we talk about sustainable agriculture, we are talking about smart agriculture—that is, using technology and the vast knowledge the world has amassed about how plants thrive and adapt—to develop hardy varieties of important crops.
Koronivia Research Station operates field nurseries where we conduct research on more than 60 crop varieties. But these field nurseries are directly exposed to extreme weather. In fact, 60 to 70% of nursery planting materials are lost each time there is an extreme weather event. When that happens, we not only lose plants and have to replant, we also risk losing invaluable research that we have done that would allow us to ensure genetic variation or develop varieties of important crops that are more adaptable to the weather conditions we are facing. It is a vicious cycle.
If we want to have a truly sustainable food supply—if we want to ensure that Fiji has a growing agricultural sector that can provide food security—then we must provide seeds and planting materials to farmers, households and agriculture businesses. And that means we must strengthen the resilience of crop nurseries, because that is where those seeds and seedlings are produced.
Nurseries play a dynamic role in Fiji’s horticultural development. They are where good quality seedlings are raised before being transferred to the field. We simply cannot do without them.
Apart from providing seedlings for rehabilitation programs after natural disasters, this Nursery will also work to harden tissue-culture planting materials for mass propagation.
As I understand it, tissue-culture involves using small pieces of plant tissue to create new plants. By making these materials hardier, we go a long way in ensuring their adaptability and survivability under adverse conditions. So that means better crops and less crop destruction.
Agriculture remains a very important economic activity for most of our rural population. We all know that agriculture is not something that can be switched on and off. Nature does not respect the normal 40-hour work week, and crops demand constant attention. So we must ensure that farm operations continue without disruptions even during a pandemic or a cyclone season.
Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fiji Bureau of Statistics recently reported that the agriculture sector contributes more than $756 Million Dollars to Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product and has grown at an average rate of 7.1% annually in the last decade. It earns export dollars and it feeds Fijian families.
This Nursery will provide millions of seeds that have been developed through careful research. Those seeds will grow into healthy crops. And those crops will ensure that we Fijians can find nutritious produce in our markets at affordable prices. Today is a win for food security in Fiji. It is a win for consumers. And it is a big win for our farmers who have been a pillar of the economy throughout the pandemic –– breaking a record in single-year agricultural exports.
The Ministry of Agriculture Research Division will manage the Smart Nursery and continue to play an important role in the development of Fiji’s Agriculture sector.
I would like especially to welcome the High Commissioner of Canada to Fiji, Her Excellency Ms. Joanne Lemay, and to thank the Government of Canada for its generous assistance towards this project. The total assistance package from the Canadian Government was more than $330,000 for the construction of the Koronivia Smart Nursery and other associated activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have great pleasure in opening the “Koronivia Smart Nursery.” This is a great day for a greener Fiji.
Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you