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Milking Money
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26 April 2011


Dairy farming carries an enormous potential for financial returns provided certain fundamentals are in place first such as security of land tenure, adequate land and good grazing pasture, consistent supply of supplementary feed, good water supply, mechanized milking sheds and certainly, absence of bovine tuberculosis and bovine brucellosis amongst the stock would be a bonus.

Fiji needs an estimated 80 million litres of milk per annum to meet domestic demands of which, the local dairy industry only produces between 10 to 12 million litres annually. The shortfall of 68 to 70 million litres is catered for through imports; money that could
otherwise be circulating locally if more locals entered dairy farming. Sitiveni Guniyaga, 72, a former client of the Fiji Development Bank and his son, Iliani, 45, who has taken over his father’s dairy farm and loan at FDB, are thriving dairy farmers at Naitutu, about 28 kilometres from Nausori off the Nausori/Korovou Highway.

In central Viti Levu where the heart of Fiji’s dairy industry lies,
Sitiveni and Iliani are one of 220-odd registered milk suppliers in the Tailevu/Naitasiri/Rewa provinces to Rewa Dairy (now, called Fiji Dairy Company Limited - FDCL); the remaining 16 dairy farmers are located in Serua/Namosi.

“I have been farming here at Naitutu since 1965 and I have farmed
crops like cocoa, dalo, yagona, pineapples and cassava over the years and in the early 1980s I joined government’s beef scheme after they put in the road to my farm in 1979 and in 1999, I decided to diversify from beef to dairy farming,” says Sitiveni.

 Iliani joined Sitiveni on the farm after graduating from Navuso Agricultural College in 1983. Together, the father and son have, with the assistance of the FDB since 1970, developed the farm’s pastures, purchased cattle stock, owned and operated a truck for transportation and cartage as well as built a farmhouse where Iliani and Sitiveni live with their families. Sitiveni’s consistent hard work as a farmer has earned him the MPI Farmer of the Year Award for 1982 and the Beef Farmer of the Year Award in 1983.

“When I started out, the lease for my then 50 acre farm was under
my brother, Poasa’s name then in 1970 when that lease expired, I decided to lease another 300 acres from my mataqali and formalised this arrangement under ALTA (the Agriculture and Landlord and Tenants Act).”
When the lease expired in 1999, Sitiveni transferred the farm to his son Iliani whose application for lease renewal to the Native Lands Trust Board is still pending. Sitiveni isn’t too worried about the formalities with the NLTB because the land on which the farm sits belongs to his clan and he does not foresee any problems arising. Other farmers have not been as fortunate.

In a 2008 study on “Fiji’s Dairy Industry: a cost and profitability
analysis” by Salesh Kumar and Mahendra Reddy, farmers identified expiring leases, inconsistent feed supplies from the then Rewa Dairy, poor water supply and expensive herbicides amongst their chief problems. What does remain a constant threat however, are cyclones and floods which can devastate stock and pastures overnight and has occurred often enough to have farmers stuck in the constant rut of replacing stock and restoring pastures.
The brucellosis outbreak on several farms in Tailevu in early 2009 also saw cattle and dairy farmers suffer huge losses with over 250 affected cattle culled. Tailevu remains a bio-security zone with the Ministry of Agriculture maintaining a vigilant eye on the situation. The arrival of 150 pregnant heifers from New Zealand in February, is a step toward helping the industry recover stock levels.

The brucellosis outbreak did not affect the Guniyaga’s and they are
relieved. They currently have a stock of 26 lactating cows, 20 pregnant heifers, and 46 other heads of cattle of varying ages and sexes. Their farm is mechanized with a motorized milk extractor that can milk two cows at a time.
“We collect between 900 and 1,200 litres of milk each week and from that we can make anywhere between $500 and $660 a week,” Sitiveni said.

Dairy farmers are paid 44 cents a litre or 55 cents a litre for
premium milk. It is in the farmer’s interest to ensure that his milk collection method is hygienic and the stainless steel milk vats into
which the milk are stored for collection is clean to qualify for the premium price.

The standard milk collection from each cow is between four and six
litres per cow, milked twice a day. The Guniyaga’s farm currently averages 6.6 litres per cow per day, which is quite good.

For Sitiveni and Iliani, a backup plan is always helpful to have and
in their case, they have diversified their farm with FDB assistance, to include sheep in 2009, which they sell for $6 per kilogramme live weight.
“Sheep are easy to raise and are very popular at weddings and legas (funerals),” Sitiveni said.

About eight kilometres down the road is another longtime client of
FDB, 69 year-old Filimone Naicavu at Natovola, where on his leased 140 acre farm, his 30 milking cows produce between 1,200 and 1,680 litres of milk a week. His daily average of eight litres per cow per day is double the standard minimum.

“I’m originally from Malawai, Gau but I attended Navuso
Agriculture College in Naitasiri between 1959 and 1963. After four years at Navuso, I went to work for MPI but I didn’t enjoy that very much so I went back to my village on Gau,” he said.Working on his root crop farm brought little returns as Filimone could not find a market for his produce. He decided that he would return back to Viti Levu in 1968, which he did and moved in with a cousin who had a beef farm in Verata, Tailevu.
 “My plan when I left the village was to look for land start my own beef farm and my cousin was one of the pioneers of the Beef Scheme in Fiji that expanded all the way to Tilivalevu and Yalavou. While I was with my cousin, I looked around for land nearby. My cousin told me that when I did find a piece of land, he would help me and in 1970 I found Natavola,” he said.
While waiting for his beef operations to establish itself (it takes three years to prepare pastures and raise the stock), Filimone farmed vegetables and root crops which he still continues to do today.
Expanding to dairy farming much earlier than the Guniyagas in 1979, Filimone didn’t start milking until 1981. Today, apart from the 30 milking cows Filimone also as an assortment of 66 other heads of cattle at varying ages and sexes on his farm. His milking method is still old school and done by hand, which he has help in the form of his namesake, one farmhand and his wife.
“With dairy farming I am assured of a steady weekly income and for me, this is much better than the other types of farming which is why I always encourage Fijian farmers to take on dairy farming because there is money in it,” Filimone said.

 Filimone and Sitiveni’s farms are one of a handful earning an income of between $32,000 and $60,000 annually provided supply is consistent at current levels. The majority of dairy farms in the Central Division earn less than $16,000.

The Fiji Development Bank’s Dairy Farm Loan allows eligible
farmers to borrow for land purchase, and development, build or renovate farmhouses, purchase new or used farm vehicles, plant equipment and implements as well as stock for milk production.
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