Green sugar for healthy fish and community
Best management practices are being trialled on two model farms in the Labasa mill area. WWF-Pacific, with the assistance of Bacardi Limited, the world’s largest family owned spirits company, established the farms to demonstrate to farmers, how they can farm cane without harming the natural environment.
These practices include, in part, putting a stop to burning cane trash and reducing the use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals. It also includes planting vetiver grass to prevent erosion into rivers and streams that wind their way down to sea where they accumulate as sediments on reefs and harm marine ecosystems.
These ecosystems are vital to the survival of coastal communities, that depend directly on marine resources as a source of food and income.
The two model farms at Korotari, in the upper catchments of the Labasa river and at Waiqele, just outside Labasa town, are the focus of the WWF-Pacific Sustainable Sugar Programme, that is engaging the sugar industry in greening cane farming for the betterment of a healthy environment.
Other practices include;
• Manual weed control, as opposed to using weedicide
• Leguminous crop (beans and lentils) planting to revitalize soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. Farmers are also able to earn supplemental income from the sale of these produce
• Minimum cultivation i.e. only plouging land where necessary so as to minimise soil erosion
Sustainable Sugar Programme Coordinator Vinesh Kumar said whilst the environment is benefitting from the application of best practices in cane farming, farmers can simultaneously enjoy reduced production costs.
“Farmers can gain significantly in terms of savings on fertilisers and weedicides if they don’t burn cane leaves after harvesting but use it as a weed suppresant and for mulching,” he said.
“Diversifying into other crop is also allowing farmers to earn more whereby farmers practice crop rotation, hence improving soil fertility.”
Kumar said the SSP setup was prompted by research showing the detrimental impacts of cane farming on the Great Sea Reef.
The Great Sea Reef is the largest reef system in Fiji, supplying as much as 80 percent of the domestic fish market.
WWF-Pacific worked with the four districts, Mali, Dreketi, Sasa and Macuata to set up protected areas in their combined fishing ground, Qoliqoli Cokovata in 2006.
“Knowing the reef system is vitally important to food security, livelihoods and economy in Fiji makes it all the more reason to protect it,” Kumar said.
“The SSP is one of several divergent programmes at WWF Pacific that are together designed to address and alleviate the factors that contribute to the destruction of marine resources and harm the Great Sea Reef.
“While we employ conservation measures at sea it is imperative that sustainable land management pratices are also carried out, acknowledging the ridge to reef aproach, that whatever happens on land affects efforts at sea,” Kumar said.
Lessons from the two model farms will then shared with other cane farmers, especially those farming near rivers and creek systems, with a plan for replication of practices across a wider magnitude. The scale of farming at the two model farms are on the extreme ends of the scale, one producing 500 tonnes while the other only 150 tonnes of cane, parameters within which farms with a similar level of production can relate to.
Kumar said for the remainder of 2014, more meetings will be held with farmers in Labasa cane belt areas to share lessons and encourage more farmers to have a collaborative effort in saving the Great Sea Reef and the food security of the hundreds of livelihoods that depend on it.