Land of the Milk & Honey
My parents acquired a farm when my siblings and I were much younger, they felt it was important that we had this separate from our Mataqali land rights. The farm is in Waimalua, Tailevu North. My parents both worked fulltime so we could only go in the weekends to plant etc and so right from when I was a small child, I’ve had this amazing opportunity of watching and helping both immediate and extended family work the land.
My parents didn’t do large scale commercial farming, it was more subsistence farming. My mother who was an avid beekeeper got a few beehives from the Fiji Beekeeping Association and had these hives placed where the wild flowers grew, goes without saying that we were never short of wild flower flavoured raw honey. On the farm, there’s also a (natural) fish pond in the front bit and a river/waterfall in the back. I grew up with wild fruit trees, eating cocoa beans straight off the tree, fishing in the pond (it was catch and release type of fishing), “falling in” one too many times and swimming by myself out in the back of the property. It really made me appreciate growing up in Tailevu North in a whole different way from what I was used to in our village.
Now fast forward many, many years later, my older sisters are now using the land to farm commercially at large scale. My sister Sala and her husband, Lote started with ginger as their first cash crop.
She did this with her husband and children and they worked diligently planting and harvesting.
Once they completed their first harvest, they then went into Dalo (Taro) & Yaqona (Kava) with another of my older sister's, Ranadi. Collectively in the last year alone, they have managed to plant 30,000 Dalo and 2,000 Yaqona plants on our family farm . The type of Dalo they’re planting is Tausala and Uronivonu.
Ranadi has now expanded her farming plans by utilising land that is reserved for our village, Matacula and has a plot there where she has planted 5,000 Dalo and Yaqona plants. She’s now prepping another plot of land, ready to plant ginger in the coming weeks.
But it hasn’t stopped there, there’s more... There is now a third location which is run by our family farming partner. Our family farming partner is a cousin of ours that we grew up with and comes from a family that has been heavily involved in community and sports development in Tailevu North along with our Dad. Due to location, this farming area is being cleared by bare hands and not machinery. I have only seen pictures and videos but words cannot express the respect I have for the workers who do this.
It’s truly humbling and also encouraging to see the land being worked and also at the same time being given the respect it commands so that the yield is plentiful.
They are now in the process of planting 10,000 uro ni vonu and Yaqona plants in this location. Our farming partner ensures that there is a strict work schedule plan that is adhered to and the farm labourers carry it out accordingly.
I’ve always been one who supported from afar because being the youngest I have that privilege of being able to dip in and out. But now my sister Ranadi has managed to convince me to get fully involved & started planting my Dalo & Yaqona as well. She, along with our farming partner have helped me to start off with 3,000 Dalo & 1,000 Yaqona plants which when compared to theirs is minute but we all have to start from somewhere.
It’s exciting times for all of us but one important factor that I’ve learnt from following my sisters journey and now starting my own with them also, is that, inorder for a farming venture to be successful, it needs a solid support unit. Ours is made up of the individuals who are pouring their heart & soul into the actual work being done on the ground, we have to ensure they get paid a living wage in accordance with actual cost of living because if we don’t look after them then they won’t invest in us as providers. We also have our cousin Walosi who provides the agricultural expertise needed for the crops and how to help the soil yield maximum output. This is so important to have especially for those of us who are first time farmers and need guidance on when to prep the land and the crops you're planting. We have my Dad who provides the financial & administrative knowledge needed in order to keep large scale projects such as this in ship-shape order and then we have the siblings who provide the morale and at times financial support when needed. But most importantly of all, my sisters and their wonderful partners who have laid the groundwork for self sufficiency and entrepreneurship within our family circle.
This support network is what helps the venture grow and succeed in ways that we have only just begun to tap into. I know and acknowledge the privilege that we have through my parents acquiring the farm for us as a family. It has provided a huge headstart in our being able to establish ourselves. However I hope this wont discourage those of you looking to do the same. For those of us who are iTaukei, the option to utilise our land that is reserved for our villages is a good starting point, the usual traditional request rites come into play, seek advice from your village elders and follow protocols that are in place for these purposes. For those who might want to lease land, iTLTB have opportunities available for you to be able to apply through them to acquire a lease. Again, for those of us of iTaukei heritage its so important to also remember that even though everything is being done through iTLTB and is a transactional process where you pay a premium to the landowning unit inorder to receive the lease title, it also benefits you as a leaseholder to observe protocols and go back to the landowning unit to thank them for allowing you to utilise their land, the term for this traditional protocol is known as "nai vakalutu ni qele". By doing so, you are acknowledging their role as custodians of their land and the grace in which they are according you by allowing you to lease their land. When we respect the land and its rightful custodians, it will in turn, give you your yield in tenfolds. There's also other options available like Fiji Development Bank so please do as much research as you can to find what is the best option for you and the budget you have put aside for your farming venture.
All in all I really do hope my sharing my family’s story will encourage those who might be thinking of starting their own farming experience.
From the land of Milk & Honey,