13 Jun 2003

Continued uncertainty over Fiji sugar cane harvest

8:08 am on 13 June 2003

Uncertainty surrounds this year's Fiji sugar cane harvest only a week before it is due to begin.

This is because most farmers still have not signed their harvesting agreements because of talks of a harvest boycott by the Mahendra Chaudhry-led National Farmers Union.

Some farmers are reported to have expressed fears that if they harvest, their farms will be set on fire by those opposed to the harvest.

A former president of the National Farmers Union who has resigned from the union and the Fiji Labour Party, Param Sivam, told Radio Fiji that most farmers want to harvest.

Mr Sivam says many farmers have large debts which they want to repay by harvesting and they are fed up with Mr Chaudhry's dictatorial style of leadership.

The chairman of the Sugar Commission, Gerald Barrack, says only a small number of farmers have signed the harvest agreements, meaning that not enough cane will be available for the mills to begin crushing on June the 18th.

Mr Chaudhry says he will not give the go-ahead to his union members to harvest until the mills are in good enough condition to begin crushing efficiently without constant breakdowns.

Meanwhile, there are fears that if the mills do not start on time, this could jeopardise scheduled sugar shipments in early August, resulting in further costs and penalties to the already ailing industry.