Managing a Dalo Farm in a rural village of Fiji – The Story of Filimoni Kilawekana, Dalo farmer in Korovou

SITUATION OF THE FAMILY FARM

Filimoni and his wife and four children, live in Nailaga village in the Province of Tailevu located in the central division of the main island of Viti Levu in Fiji. Their main source of income derives from their dalo farm located next to two rivers (Wainitevua and Waimalua) in Korovou, Tailevu. They have been farming for more than 10 years, eager to have a sustainable income source.  Their main goal is to improve their living standards and educate their four children.  Farming life has many challenges over the years that led to low yields due to cyclones, theft, and lack of farm roads.  The family was determined to continue farming and in April 2019, a farm access road has been built with the support of the Fiji Government through the Ministry of Agriculture. It has motivated the family to expand their farm utilizing the 20 acres leased farm land to increase production from 20,000 to 60,000 dalo, and to intensify their farming methods to plant assorted vegetables, fruit trees and cassava to increase family income as from 2019.

Filimoni also get other sources of income from consultancy advisory services to the farmers by conducting training on dalo beetle eradication, and dalo planting practice to increase size of dalo corm based on requirements of the buyers and export markets. The most important expenditures incurred by the family are for maintaining the farm to produce high yields, and family daily food consumptions and obligations.  Filimoni and his wife and children have set their targets and goals to have a future sustainable livelihood that includes sending the four children to universities and a pilot training school in Nadi.  The ultimate goal for the family is that through farming their family can have a sustainable income source and investments with a vision in becoming a `millionaire’ in five to ten years time.

 

AGRICULTURE PRACTICES

Filimoni and his family had started to intensify their farming from 2009 when they had 30,000 dalo plants.  This was reduced significantly over the years due to lack of a farm access road, to transport farming inputs and harvested dalo to the collection point for the buyers, on the road side.

 

Picture 2: Dalo suckers, and bags of dalo harvested are carried across the river by youth groups engagd by Filimoni during planting and harvesting periods.

With the farm access road constructed in March-April 2019, a lot of challenges faced by Filimoni in transporting the farm inputs such as dalo suckers and fertilizers, and harvested products are being addressed.  Filimoni and his family are able to intensify their dalo production by planting an additional of 20,000 Tausala and 40,000 Hybrid varieties, and cash crops like vegetables and pineapples.  There is no animal on the farm, as the family focuses entirely on crop and vegetable farming, a whole farm approach to plant for consumption for sustainable food security and income.  Filimoni is a former extension officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, and he has extensive work experience and knowledge, specialized on certain agricultural activities like dalo beetle eradication. With the road in place, and the family plans to make some changes by re-strategising to improve their farming activities and raise production for 2019-2020.  The farm produces its own dalo planting materials, with 60,000 dalo suckers already produced from the existing farm.  Each of the 20,000 dalo plants produces three to four suckers. Increasing dalo production, also means that an increase in the amount of fertilizers and chemicals that need to be applied. Fertilizers and chemicals will be purchased from the nearest suppliers in Korovou Town at the Northland Farming Suppliers Ltd.  Fertilizers and machines (digger, excavator) are subsidized by the Government on a one third (farmer) and two third (Government) payment arrangement.

At the next planting season in May 2019, more Tausala Dalo varieties will be planted due to a high price of 3 dollars (FJD) a kg, as well as Hybrid Dalo as there is no restriction on size of dalo for the export market. Exporters cut the Hybrid dalo into pieces and pack them into 1kg plastic bags, frozen and exported to New Zealand, Australia and USA markets.  Management of soil fertility is properly handled, as there is a lot of organic deposits on top of the soil at their farm.  Financing the farm is not an issue.  Income from previous harvests and one in April 2019 will finance the farm and all agricultural activities. The family has a savings accounts with the Bred Bank in Fiji.

 

PRODUCTION AND PRODUCTIVITY

Filimoni and his family has intensified the dalo production from 15 to 20 tonnes per hectare.  For 1 hectare, 10,000 dalo plants are planted.  Space of planting is important to get the right size of dalo corm, with spacing of 1 meter by 1 meter for each plant.  High yields are maintained within 5 to 10 years, with application of organic fertilizer such as poultry and green manure.

The family’s food security is supported through daily consumption of breadfruit and fruit trees which grow in abundance near the family home and at the farm site and are available throughout the year.  The family consumes a lot of dalo as main staple food, rich in starch and good source of carbohydrates, but can increase the cholesterol level in the human body.  The family is aware of this and ensures that a balanced diet is consumed daily.

 

STORAGE, CONSERVATION AND PROCESSING

The family does not store their dalo at the farm site.  Once it is uprooted, sorted and packed in a 50kg bag, it must be delivered or picked by the buyers from the road side on the same day. Also, dalo is sold by the family at the farm gate and at municipal markets at the nearest Towns of Korovou or Nausori.  To store the product, the family needs proper storage and freezer facilities at the farm.  The family has planned to go into value adding in the medium to long term, once the farm has sustainable production volume and government subsidy is offered in the installation and construction of a packhouse, storage and freezer.

 

MARKETING AND SALES

The family contacts Bens Trading Co. Ltd, who is the main buyer and exporter of dalo.  The family sells the dalo after eight months of planting, and there are peak periods in which dalo is in high demand like the christmas season.  Bens Trading buys dalo for 1.50FJD a kg for the Hybrid variety and 3.00 FJD a kg for the Tausala variety.  The price of dalo fluctuates, depending on market demand, and availability of dalo.  From next planting season in May, the family has planned to programme their planting that is 10,000 dalo suckers to be planted every month.  This would benefit the family as their farm will continue to supply when there is not enough dalo in the market.

The family will now use the digger and excavator from the next planting season on, with the availability of a farm road.  This will reduce labour cost with the current 15 cents per plant, total cost is 1,500 FJD for planting 10,000 dalo. The family searches for new markets by going into value adding such as dalo chips, flour, porridge and beer.

 

FARMER ORGANISATION MEMBERSHIP

Filimoni became a member of the Fiji Dalo Farmers Association in 2016.  He was also appointed President of the Association, by the representatives of all the dalo farmers in the 14 Provinces of Fiji.  His family has experienced the benefits as it increased their network with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji Crop and Livestock Council, Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, Fiji Development Bank, Donor agencies, Traders and Exporters of Dalo, Fiji Agrofood Processors Association and other farmers organisations in Fiji.  Filimoni gained a lot from his membership of the Dalo Farmers Association, as he accessed training and improved his knowledge on climate smart farming practices. Other farmers also benefit, especially if they are registered in the Farmers Database of the Fiji Crop Livestock Council, and Ministry of Agriculture.  According to Filimoni, it is imperative to look after the members by assisting them to access finance, agri-inputs and training on how to apply the chemicals at their farm.  Filimoni believes that through the Mobile application system which now sits with the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council, farmers connectivity with other farmers and players along their value chain will significantly be improved.  The Dalo Farmers Association has much potentials and opportunities to access other potential industries and to assist their members in areas of needs or improvements.

 

RELATIONS WITH OTHER ACTORS

As head of the Dalo farmers association, it was easy for Filimoni to build a network with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Fiji Crop Livestock Council, traders, processors, the Fiji Development Bank, agro input suppliers/ dealers, and advocate on behalf of their members.  The support and co-operation between the Fiji Dalo Farmers Association and the key players, supporters and enablers in the value chain is beneficial to all. The areas that need improvement are in extension services and research, in relation to the dissemination of research outcomes to the farmers and regular visits of the extension services officer of the Ministry of Agriculture to provide technical advisory support services. Extension advisory services are very thinly spread in Fiji, for example, there is one extension officer for every 800 to 1,000 farmers. Filimoni and members of his Dalo Farmers Association see very little of the extension officer, thus very little information reaches the farmers.

 

EXTERNAL FACTORS

Climate change has impacted on results of yield of dalo production. Long periods of dry weather dried up the land and adversely affect the dalo corm size.  Price of dalo fluctuates a lot, that at times discourage farmers from planting more dalo, leading to higher dalo price.

Government policy on subsidies for seedlings and machines currently cannot cater for farmers demand.  Filimoni recommends for the subsidy policy to be reviewed, taking into consideration the actual needs of farmers on the ground.  A bottom up, participatory and inclusive approach to involve youth and women in farming is highly recommended by Filimoni and his family.  Farming is a career, and anyone can take it up to improve individual and family livelihoods.

 

Prepared by Jiu Daunivalu (CEO, Fiji Crop Livestock Council), May 2019 https://www.fclc.org.fj/ 

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