25 Feb 2016

Fiji govt estimates Winston damage US$460 million

8:56 pm on 25 February 2016

Fiji's minister for finance, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has put the cost of damage caused by Cyclone Winston at 1 billion Fiji dollars, or US$460 million.

Fiji Finance Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum

Fiji Finance Minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum Photo: Supplied

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum made the comments at a press conference this afternoon.

The Fiji Village reports Mr Sayed-Khaiyum as saying this was not an official figure, but an estimation.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Federation Party says the government will have to invest close to $US50 million in the sugar industry if it wants it to recover from Cyclone Winston.

NFP leader Biman Prasad said the sugar industry formed a pivotal part of Fiji's economy and it now lay in tatters.

Mr Prasad, who is also an economist, said about 80 percent of the sugar cane had been damaged by the storm.

He said once emergency needs were met, the industry needed major rehabilitation action from the government.

"We have the experience of some of those kind of rehabilitation packages from the 1998 drought where 50 million (Fiji) dollars was put into sugar cane rehabilitation programme by the then government and that helped rescue the sugar industry in a big way.

"In fact, I think we probably need twice more than in 1998."

Mr Prasad was also calling on the government to allow family of National Provident Fund members access to the fund because of the disaster situation.

Impact on the sugar trade

Fiji cane farmers were hoping new markets could be found for fair-trade sugar to help them earn more, after Winston devastated their 2016 crop.

Farmers in Lautoka, Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki were the worst affected.

Lautoka Cane Producers Association president Parbindra Singh said his association was in talks with Fairtrade Sugar and the Network of Asia Pacific Producers, seeking ways to help local farmers recover.

"Basically they are giving encouragement to go out and assist people with the 2017 crops and they have also said that they are looking for the markets and probably the market would be found and we would be able to sell our sugar and that premium and go directly to our members."

One of the largest buyers of Fiji's Fairtrade Sugar, UK based company Tayte & Lyle, last year stopped purchasing Fiji sugar on Fairtrade terms, citing market constraints.

About 13,000 producers and their dependents were said to have lost out on fairtrade premiums from that deal, which amounted to nearly $US13 million.

cut sugar cane 2006

Photo: Ruurmo