Cut in incentives fund

Sugar Cane trucks line up at the Lautoka Mill. Picture: FILE/REINAL CHAND

WHILE the Sugar Ministry’s $70.4 million allocation in the 2019-2020 National Budget is an increase of $8.1m over the $62.3m allocated in the 2018/2019 financial year — funding for some incentives have been slashed in a bid to improve efficiency and accountability, says permanent secretary Yogesh Karan.

One of the biggest cuts was in the cane development grant — which has been cut from $15m to $4m.

“The cane development grant has been reduced because over the last three years we have pumped more than $35m into this initiative,” he said.

“As I have said earlier, the intention was for the industry to hit more than two million tonnes of cane, but in some cases these grants have been abused by farmers.

“We don’t have staff, I have barely 20 staff in the Sugar Ministry and there are more than 12,000 farmers so it becomes very difficult to go out and see how these grants are being implemented and this is the role of the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

“I have raised with the FSC CEO on numerous occasions that the grant allocations need to be very well monitored and managed.

“FSC has also made good efforts to help farmers in the utilisation, but still there are farmers who abuse it. “With the guaranteed price and fertiliser subsidy, farmers need to roll up their sleeves and do more.

“The issue is increasing yield. With the current land under cane, we are producing 42 tonnes per hectare and we need to increase it to international levels – Australia produces more than 100 tonnes per hectare on average.”

Other reductions include — cane access road down from $6m to $3m, cane cartage from Penang to Rarawai down from $5m to $4m, weedicide subsidy down from $6m to $1m, new farmers assistance scheme reduced from $1m to $0.5m and the mechanisation aid scheme down from $2m to $0.5m.

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