The Rainbow City Of Cultures …

15.4.86

According to its publicity, Suva’s Nightlife is filled with the scents of food from a dozen different cultures and movies are yours from around the world.

And its Daytime offers the best in shopping from the west and the east.

Suva reflects the economic growth of the Fiji nation. As the administrative and business centre, it is a magnet for all who wish to share in its wealth. Tourism is a key factor, being the largest source of foreign earnings. However, major tourism complexes along Viti Levu’s southern Coral Coast are generally owned by foreign investment concerns who are apt to pull out if their profitability is threatened. As it is at present.

Although total earnings rose in 1985, more than the AUS$161 million spent in 1984, the total number of visitors dropped to c.358,000. Australia, the major client nation, is now encouraging a ‘see Australia first’ policy. With a weakened Australian dollar, the Pacific islands are no longer a cheap option.

Duty-free shops are feeling the pinch. The exemption of import duty on photo- and phonographic equipment and other desirables for the affluent is no longer such a bargain. Cruise ships are no longer going to call at Suva. In the case of the Oriana, that is because she is destined for the scrap yard unless some entrepreneur uses her potential as a (static) floating hotel. In any case, cruise ships have their own duty free supplies.

MV Oriana

A Russian cruise ship is rumoured to be arriving in November, presumably filled with Antipodeans. She would be a replacement for that which recently struck rocks and sank off the coast of New Zealand.

Whatever, without strenuous government promoted efforts, tourism will continue to decline.

The other major foreign currency earner is sugar. This cash commodity must compete in the world market and is subject to the usual market forces of supply and demand and of the weather variables; cyclones have reduced the total amount harvested over the past two years. Unfortunately, the main losers are the mainly Indian smallholders who are hypothecated to the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) and the Fiji Development Bank (FDB).

For example: the bank will lend to a prospective farmer so he can develop a piece of land. However, the farmer first needs to obtain permission from the land owner. Ninety percent of Fiji’s land is owned by the village (koro) or family (mataqule), generally Fijian. This land can never be sold. Only 10% is freehold and is occasionally for sale. This land was, in general, formerly owned by European settlers and is possibly now turned into international tourist resorts.

Our prospective farmer is probably of Indian descent. His forbears were brought to Fiji a hundred years ago to work as indentured labourers in the sugar plantations. In 1916, indentured labour was brought to an end and, although given the opportunity to return to India, most of the labourers stayed on to become tenant farmers, managing c.four hectares (40,000 sq. metres) apiece.

So, the farmer borrows from the bank against the promise of selling his harvest to the government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation who fix the price they’ll pay according to prevailing conditions on the world market.

If there is a glut of sugar, then inevitably the international price will fall. As an essential earner of of foreign currency for the government, the FSC must make a profit. So a fall in selling price dictates a fall in the price paid to the producing farmers.

Cyclonic weather devastates tall sugar cane. This year’s floods in western Viti Levu and storm force winds in northern Vanua Levu have produced an extremely bleak outlook for the sugar farmers: crops are due to be harvested next month.

With a diminished harvest, less monies will be available to repay the loans for fertilisers, tools, inspection fees and, more importantly, to feed families.

Dependent on a single cash crop, the farmers of Fiji are not free men.
………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Notes:
– The above was written before the election of 1987 which brought an Indian coalition to power. The Coalition was subsequently overthrown in a military coup which, with different characters at the head, remains in power today.
– For current developments, read the Fiji Democracy Now blog.
– In 2013, the FSC failed to find markets for the harvested sugar.

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About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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