CANE growers in Koronubu and Veisaru in Tavua have raised concern about land security and are hesitant to take loans for cane planting under the interest free Cane Development Revolving Fund (CDRF) offered by the sugar industry.

Farmers from the two cane-growing areas who gathered in Tavua to hear industry stakeholders explain the benefits of taking up the loan, said they could not take up the offer because of the imminent expiry of their leases.

The growers said a significant number of them had leases which ended in 2015 and further investment in the farming of cane was not an option unless leases were renewed.

"We are taking these concerns very seriously and are working with the Fiji Sugar Corporation to compile a list of growers facing this issue and through the Sugar Ministry we will take this up with the Committee for Better Utilisation of Land and the iTaukei Land Trust Board," said acting Sugar Cane Growers Council CEO Sundresh Chetty.

He said the growers were receptive towards industry stakeholders as they travel through the cane belt and many have expressed interest in taking loans through the CDRF.

However, enthusiasm on the ground has not been transferred into actual loan applications with the Sugar Cane Growers Fund.

Fund CEO Sada Sivan said the uptake has been "quite slow".

"At the awareness meetings the farmers have shown interest but very few have actually taken up the offer," he said.

"We feel growers will come forward once the FSC announces the start of the replanting program."

Growers' representative, the National Farmers Union, said the lease issue was not confined to Koronubu and Veisaru and also questioned the industry's move to put canegrowers further in debt.

"Many farmers throughout the cane belt area are faced with lease problems that need to be addressed," said union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry.

"In regards to their reluctance to take up this loan, many farmers do not have the capacity, they are heavily in debt and in no position to borrow any further."

The CDRF is an interest-free loan initially funded by the government with a contribution of $6million and the SCGF put up $3m last year.

The concerns raised by cane-growers were also tabled by Sugar permanent secretary Lieutenant Colonel Manasa Vaniqi at a sugar stakeholders meeting in Lautoka last week, where he said short term leases were the reason for the laxity in the sugar and agriculture industries.

source: fijitimes

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