21 May 2004

NLTB figures show 5500 expired leases

4:16 pm on 21 May 2004

Fiji's Native Lands Trust Board says 5,500 farm leases on indigenous land have expired in recent years.

Of these over 1900 farms have been taken over by indigenous owners and 770 leases were renewed to existing tenants.

But over 1880 farms remain vacant and have reverted to bush.

The Fiji Times reports that the NLTB has revealed the figures as it reverses its previous policy of not renewing farm leases and is encouraging former tenants of sugar cane farms which are lying idle to return.

Last year the NLTB recorded an operating loss for the first time in several years because rental income dropped as farms lay vacant.

The chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council, Jaganath Sami, says since the new management team led by Kalivati Bakani took over at the NLTB, the number of farmers displaced because of expiring leases has decreased.

The large number of expired leases has resulted in a big increase in the squatter population around towns, particularly on the outskirts of Suva.

Sugar cane production has also declined sharply.