A total of 116 farmers in the Western Division yesterday received their first tranche payment as part of the 'Cash for Cultivation' programme in an effort to strengthen the food security and recovery of TC Yasa and TC Ana affected areas.
Fifty two (52) farmers from Ba received their cash assistance from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Fiji and the Ministry of Agriculture as part of the Strengthening Early Recovery for Food Security and Livelihoods (SERFSAL) project funded by the New Zealand Aid Programme, while the remaining number of farmers received theirs separately in Rakiraki, Tavua and Sigatoka.
Speaking at the handing over at Nailaga in Ba, Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment Hon. Dr Mahendra Reddy said that though the Cash for Cultivation programme was part of the immediate recovery efforts after the devastation caused by TC Yasa and TC Ana, it was also one which was geared towards incentivising farmers to produce more local produce.
"The purpose of this is to motivate you to secure your household with respect to food security, whether you are planting cassava, vegetables or dalo, and the other is that when you receive this cash assistance, you help to sustain and boost the rural economy as we work towards expanding the agriculture sector.
"This programme is going to incentivise farmers and get them to be ready, so that when borders open, we're not going to reduce our exports and push our vegetables to the local market, but we're going to continue working and increase our exports and at the same time meet the demands from the tourism sector, be it (demand for) dalo, rourou, moca or cabbage or whatever," Minister Reddy said.
"We want the demand for vegetables, fresh produce, or root crops that comes from the local sector, whether it is from the tourism or the service industry, it should be fulfilled by us," he added.
ADRA Fiji Country Director Iliapi Tuwai said that while the project focuses on immediate recovery for food security and livelihoods for the most vulnerable in the affected communities in the Northern Division, the Cash for Cultivation programme was also extended to the Central and Western Division for farmers affected by TC Ana.
Mr Tuwai said 15 communities across Macuata, Cakaudrove and Bua provinces would still benefit from this project. The activities have been designed to empower communities to take ownership of their own recovery.
The project will see the provision of agricultural kits and Cash for Cultivation to farmers or farming clusters for additional agricultural inputs and to help regenerate farmer income earning capacities on short-term crops and help provide for their food security.
"Finally, the project will offer livelihood, disaster risk reduction and sustainable land management training, climate change adaptation and good agricultural practices,” Mr Tuwai added.
Meanwhile for 59-year-old Koroboya villager and cassava farmer Setefano Laqere who is one of the beneficiaries, said he was fortunate to have been selected, as he had plans to restore his farm following damage sustained following TC Ana.
"I come from a place that is surrounded by rugged terrain, this kind of assistance is very hard to come by and I am very thankful that I have been chosen to be part of the Cash for Cultivation programme.
"Life in our area is very, very hard because our farms are situated on terrain surrounded by rocks, but we continue to farm because that's our livelihood. I have to keep farming because this is the only source of income my family relies on, I've sent my children to school all through farming and I am very fortunate to be part of the programme, I will not let it go to waste," said Mr Laqere.
Similar sentiments were expressed by 79-year-old Bishun Dutt, who has been visually impaired for the past 12 years, as he extended his appreciation to the NZ Aid Programme for their financial support while thanking ADRA Fiji and the Ministry of Agriculture for identifying him as one of the beneficiaries.
"I'm thankful that this cash assistance will add on to what we already have in our vegetable farms. We suffered a great loss from the TC Ana flooding and this will definitely help us recover."
Single mother, farmer and market vendor Ms Salanieta Tuta, whose husband had passed away last year, said the Cash for Cultivation programme was a timely initiative as it would help her to fend for her three girls.
"I am so thankful to ADRA Fiji, the Ministry of Agriculture and their staff for choosing me to be a part of the programme, I have already prepared my land and it has also been planted with cassava and vegetables which I sell myself and I am very happy today because I am going to show that even, after my husband who was a part time carpenter passed away, I can look after my family," said an emotional Ms Tuta.
The Cash for Cultivation programme will continue to be implemented throughout the country and will see farmers receiving $200 to help them prepare 1 acre of land for cultivation.