First, let me acknowledge the presence of our friends from the media who are here with us this morning, bula and welcome to Legalega Research Station.
Today, we’re here to announce to you the 5 new initiatives that the Ministry of Agriculture will be implementing soon to ensure that we successfully influence production through demand-side intervention. The five  new initiatives are:
I. Optimising the use of JUNCAO Grass to enhance livestock production
II. Backyard Gardening
III. Establishment of fruit tree orchards
IV. Upscaling of Pulses Seed Production
V. Young Farmers Business Incubation Scheme
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to enlighten you further on the objectives of these initiatives.
I] optimizing the use of JUNCAO Grass
Ladies and gentlemen, every now and then, we note concerns from livestock farmers about the poor quality of pasture and poor pasture support during drought. The Ministry of Agriculture in partnership with Government of China’s Juncao Technology programme has for some time been undertaking experiments on optimizing the use of Juncao grass due to its promising and high yielding characteristics as fodder for livestock. It has a highly developed root system that grows well at the temperature of 25-35 degrees Celsius and is generally defined as a herbaceous plant that can be used as the culture substrate for cultivation of edible and medicinal fungi. It is a robust species that can withstand drought and produces enough dry matter yields for livestock feed.
Juncao grass can be supplied as green forage for livestock, and is appropriate for the Northern and Western division where long dry spells are experienced annually. For 1 hectare of Juncao grass planted, a total of 450 tons of green feed can be produced. It can also be cultivated in the wet season and prepared as silage feed for the livestock during drier periods of the year.
The Ministry of Agriculture will identify medium to large livestock farms and it will take a lead in planting 0.5 acres of Juncao grass which will later be expanded by farmers.
The Ministry will also provide a limited number of airtight bags for storage of shredded forage which will be used during the drought period.
The project implementation will be equally distributed amongst the 3 geographical locations with commodity-specific to Dairy, Beef and Small Ruminant Farms.
II] Establishment and Promoting Backyard Gardening
The Ministry wishes to announce its firm commitment and support for backyard gardening amongst urban and peri-urban areas to contribute towards food security and nutritional improvement.
We now wish to pilot this Backyard Gardening project where each household will be provided with a Backyard Gardening (BG) package worth $65 which will include the following:
1. A Guide for Gardeners;
2. Up to 25 Potting bags;
3. Up to 5 bags of Garden soil
4. Seeds/Seedling (4 crops and 2 Fruit Trees)
The Ministry of Agriculture staff will provide a package each to potential urban gardeners in each town on Saturdays starting with Tavua and Ba first. Backyard gardening package recipients will be required to fill a “Gardener Profile Form” to allow our staff to monitor their activities and evaluate the impact of the project. We look forward towards improving the uptake of nutritious vegetables by households.
III] Establishment of Fruit Tree Orchards
The Ministry recognizes that Fruits are a major valuable constituent of our diet, rich in vitamins and nutrients contributing towards healthy living. On the other hand, the climatic condition in Fiji provides a conducive environment for tropical fruit cultivation. There are fruit trees both indigenous and exotic existing at present in farmers’ fields, villages and farming communities throughout Fiji. However, most of the fruits that we get are seasonal and in limited number because it is not farmed but rather wildly grown. It is in this regard that there is a need for the establishment of fruit orchard in a systematic and proper manner in demarcated areas.
In this regard, Ministry will spear head this project of establishing fruit orchards in farmer’s field. Ministry will select farms of the size 1 to 3 acres and following appropriate soil and agronomic tests, will clear up the farm, prepare the field for planting and assist in planting.
We intend to establish the following Orchards:
• Dragon Fruit
The above list are to be revised based on resources available.
Our target is to establish 40 Orchards every year for the next 3 years. The intended outcome of this initiative is:
– Increase in the number of established fruit orchards
– Increase in supply of local fruits
– Reduction in import bill for fruits
– Improvement in the health status of the general population.
– Improvement in the farmers’ livelihood
Farmers who are interested should register their interests with our Ministry. We wish to target 20 farms this financial year.
IV] Upscaling of Pulse Seed Production
This program focuses on upscaling Pulse Seeds Production.
Pulses are widely consumed by all Fijians and is one of the major source of protein. Annually, Fiji imports around 4,000 tons of different pulses at a value of about $9 million dollars.
The focus of this program is to engage farmers to produce pulse seeds at commercial scale on their farms.
In this project, the:
a. MOA will call for expression interest from farmers who wish to allocate at least one acre for planting of a particular pulse.
b. MOA will take the lead role in producing these seeds according to MOA’s existing revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
c. MOA will provide Pulse seeds (Beans, Urd, Mung and Pigeon Pea) to large farmers (> 1 acre) and undertake first complete land preparation for planting of the pulse.
d. MOA will supervise planting of pulses and link up buyers to the farmers so that this initiative becomes demand driven in future. In addition to the above, small farmers will continue to receive pulse seeds from the extension office.
V] Young Farmers Business Incubation Scheme
Ladies and Gentlemen, the last of this initiative is the Young Farmers Business Incubator Scheme.
In Fiji, majority of our farmers (about 80%) belong to the subsistence sector. There is a need to elevate these farmers into semi-commercial and commercial level agriculture to enhance our efforts to increase agriculture production to meet growing demand from local and export markets.
The aim of the program is to engage 100 youths, aged between 20-30 years, into the Young Farmers Business Incubator Scheme (YFBIS). The scheme will be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and successful candidates will undergo an intensive hands-on training during a three (3) year incubation period.
The initiative will focus on youths who have land readily available for agriculture purposes and who are currently engaged in farming in their respective localities.
Commercial Agriculture Development [CAD] is one of the five Strategic Priorities of the Ministry of Agriculture, highlighted in its Annual Costed Operational Plan and such an initiative will form the basis of CAD through the identification of young farmers who will be guided towards farming as a business. It is also anticipated that this will address the increasing number of aging farmers in our rural communities.
These farmers will be required to target quality produce for local and export market. They will be pegged with a buyer/exporter who will also provide requirements for quality and assist in ensuring the produce is of high quality.
The entire project will be demand driven and thus crop planning, crop type and farming system will be driven by YFBIs Steering Committee where the buyer/exporter will play an important role.
Ladies and Gentlemen briefly those are the 5 new programs that will be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture within the next few months. These programs will all be implemented concurrently with our existing programs during this financial year [2018/2019] and is indicative of Government’s continued commitment towards the agriculture sector.
These programs are set to usher in new outcomes as these programs are multi-pronged and will have long-lasting impacts on the sector and contribute more effectively towards the Ministry’s priorities.