For Fiji, sustainability in the sugar industry means ensuring two things: first, that sugar cultivation provides a good living for growers, and second, that growers are adequately protected against the impacts of climate change.
Fiji’s sugar industry supports the livelihoods of thousands of Fijians and, as of 2020, Fiji exports about 80 percent of the sugar it produces. The benefits of cane growing extend beyond the fields and crushing mills.
The industry drives rural development, such as upgraded rural roads –– giving farmers access to agricultural inputs and machinery for their farms and access to markets, urban centres, schools and health services.
On the economic side, government is doing all it can to make sure cane farming provides an adequate living. Given the pressure of international prices and the need to make the industry more efficient, we’ve allocated public funds to support programs aimed at increasing cane production and guaranteed cane prices to growers. The majority of our cane growers have begun growing other agricultural produce and holding livestock, something we encourage.
But the one-two punch of climate change and COVID-19 has placed new burdens on our cane industry and the Fijians who rely on it. From 2016 to 2020, two category-five storms inflicted nearly 100 million US dollars on the industry and damaged some 600,000 tonnes of cane. And the pandemic made it extremely difficult for the industry to hire technical experts from overseas to operate machinery and take on other work in the cane industry.
As we look to recover, we are striving for more sustainable and more resilient cane growing in our islands. We are committed to sugar and to helping the industry confront a number of new challenges, from prolounged ratooning by farmers, high soil acidity and poor soil health, hilly topography, and waterlogging and sea-water intrusion into cane farms.
Our development partners are helping us build our research capacity to promote climate-resilient crop production. Through its research institute, our sugar industry focuses on breeding climate-resilient cane varieties that can withstand and adapt to climate variations. The research institute is also undertaking research and development on areas such as soil health improvement, sustainable land-use practices, sustainable use of technology and machinery, integrated nutrient management, micronutrient deficiency, and mitigation strategies for climate change.
Guided by the research institute, Fiji’s sugar industry is currently implementing green manuring technology that increases soil fertility without reliance on chemical fertilizers that contaminate waterways as a part of runoff.
We are actively implementing mitigation and adaptation measures, including continuous generation of green electrical power by mills and the use of mill muds in farms to increase soil fertility. We’re also harnessing nature to adapt to climate impacts –– A three-tiered barrier against surges consisting of mangroves, a sea wall and vetiver grass has been effective in areas prone to coastal flooding.
All of this lays the foundation for a future-focussed cane growing sector. Because we see new frontiers for this staple Fijian crop. One example being that bagasse left over after the cane is processed provides a clean source of energy generation and can be used in the manufacture of a biodegradable replacement for plastic.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you may be aware, Fiji will host and chair the ISO Council Meeting that will convene in June 2022. It was planned to be held virtually, but I would always prefer an in-person meeting as I am sure you would –– and we’ll keep you abreast of the plan. So please keep your calendar open.
Ladies and gentlemen, Fiji is appealing to all cane-growing countries under the Commonwealth for more cooperation towards sustaining this industry and we thank you for this platform to help make it happen.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.