Almost a year since the global COVID19 hit Fiji and the loss of thousands of jobs in the tourism industry due to travel restrictions, agriculture has continued to sustain the Fijian economy.
However, despite the reliance on the agriculture sector to sustain livelihoods and meet local food consumption needs, farmers have been immensely impacted by climate change – affecting yields and profits.
One such farming community affected by saltwater intrusion as a result of climate change is the Koroqaqa cane settlementin Ba. This farming community is located on the western side of the main island of Viti Levu and is about two hours’ drive from the Nadi International airport. The cane farming community represents approximately 40 households and 25 sugar cane farms.
For 63 year old vegetable and sugar cane farmer, Mr. Muni Kumar, salt water has crept into his farm over past two years accelerating the decrease in cane and crop production.
“Tracts of once arable land have also become inundated with seawater over time, said Kumar.
He said sea water have entered through the floodgate during high tide, which then spill over into farms due to improper and blockage of farm drains.
“This has resulted in a massive decrease in the sugarcane production for the area where close to 25 farms are waterlogged and sitting idle and not useful for farming.”
“Before, I used to harvest 240 tonnes of cane in one season, but from the past two years the production has decreased to 140 tonnes,” he said.
This calculates to FJ$13,920 that he used to earn but this amount has been greatly reduced to FJ$8,120. The cane payment per tonne for the 2019/2020 season is FJ$85.
Mr. Kumar said other farmers in the settlement are suffering from salt-water seeping into their farms.
He cited an example where a farmer who used to produce 400 tonnes of cane in the past, but only harvested 80 tonnes in the 2019/2020 crushing season because of seawater intrusion.
The Fijian Government acted swiftly to address the salt-water intrusion with drainage and flood mitigation works to help the 40 households and 25 sugarcane farmers in the area.
The Ministry of Waterways & Environment assisted the community and funded just over FJ$15,000 drainage works to resolve seawater flooding in the farming community and in their farms.
The Minister for Waterways, Environment and Agriculture, Dr. Mahendra Reddy attributed the salt water intrusion to climate change and assured farmers that his ministry is committed to delivering services like this to rural communities to achieve government’s goal of equal development opportunities to all Fijians.
“It is our core role to take immediate action to address this problem to allow farmers to fully utilise their land and further increase their production to what it used to be before,” he said.
Dr. Reddy said the Ministry of Waterways will continue to assist rural households with their drainage and flood mitigation programme to further boost farming activities either for agricultural or non-agricultural purposes.