Land Development in Fiji
On a recent tour of South Pacific countries, I spent two days with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Fiji, inspecting methods of land development being adopted on the main island, Viti Levu. The island comprises some six to seven thousand square miles of mainly bush covered mountains, with peaks to 4,000 feet, but with very fertile river basins and foothills.
Eighty-four per cent of the land is owned as native reserves, some 10 per cent is freehold, and the remainder (mainly mountain-top country) is Crown land. The native reserves are held in large or small areas by matangali, that is, tribes, subtribes or families, who have over the centuries lived on and farmed the land to provide their own food. It is only in recent years that attempts to break down these areas into farms for individual settlements have been successful.
A nominee of the matangali on settlement is permitted to borrow up to £300 from the Fiji Development Bank, to purchase harness, wire, seeds, and even a couple of horses if the matangali are unable to supply them. He is required to house himself in a thatched roof, bamboo hut, and no living allowance is payable to him. The development loan is charged at 6 ½%, and is repayable by way of deduction of half the value of all produce sold from the farm.
Administratively, settlement is carried out by the Department of Natural Resources who have divided Fiji into three areas or divisions—central, northern and eastern— and each district has a Commissioner. Under each Commissioner there are a number of District Officers, each of whom has one, two or more Field Managers, and each Field Manager may have two or three Scheme Managers responsible to him, and each Scheme Manager may have 30 or 40 farms to look after. Neither the Field Manager nor the Scheme Manager is in any
way trained in agriculture, nor do they claim to have any agricultural knowledge at all. Their job is purely administrative and coordinating, and for any advice on farming matters they call in the Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Natural Resources' Head Office sets the objective for acreages of maize, tapioca, tobacco, water melons, rice, sorghum, broom corn or any other crop, and these objectives are then divided out to districts depending on soil types and acreages available, and so on down to individual Scheme Managers, who plan the acreages to be planted in any of these crops in either the wet or the dry season on each farm under his control.
The Scheme Manager then writes on his blackboard, which is usually in his house, each settler's name and number, the acreage of his farm, the crop to be planted for both wet and dry seasons, the acreage planned for each settler, the amount of his debt still owing to the Fiji Development Bank and also the amount that he owed at the same time the previous year. Regularly, and not less than once a month, all of the settlers are brought to his house where they sit down in front of the blackboard and discuss whether or not these planned acreages can be planted and the progress being made by each one of them, not only physically in terms of crops grown, but also financially in terms of the amount of money he still owes and the progress he is making towards his repayments.
When the settler has repaid his debt to the Fiji Development Bank, he is then entitled to apply to the Bank for a further advance of £200 to build himself a house. The house is a weatherboard structure measuring about 12 feet by 10 feet, unlined and devoid of any amenities whatsoever as we know them in New Zealand, but I am assured that there is great jubilation in the family when this stage is reached and this type of housing is provided. The wives are most happy and are able to spend more time in the field with their husbands and the husbands are extremely happy about it too because they are relieved of the necessity to assist their wives around the house during the day. At the time we were there, most of the farmers and their wives and families were busy stripping maize cobs and drying the corn on sacks. It is then bagged
and sent to a central development district shed where it is weighed, graded and sent away to the market.
It was with a Scheme Manager, Mr Atunaisa R. Tavuto, that we spent a very enjoyable afternoon looking over the Dabelevu scheme in the Sigatoka Valley about half-way between Suva and Nadi on the southern end of the Island. The Dabelevu scheme comprises a settlement of 36 farms almost side by side, of round about 20 acres each.
Atu told us that these farmers were given leases for 30 years from the matangali, with a right of renewal for 10 years, and a further right of renewal for a further 10 years. At the expiration of the lease the lessee may get compensation depending on what is granted by the Court, but any compensation granted must be for improvements that have been effected with the consent of the Court, and of the matangali.
We questioned Atu about the size of the farms and received from him assurance that 20 acres was the maximum that a man and his family could look after, particularly on high labour content crops like tobacco,