ONE can easily mistake 48-year-old Anand Kumar’s farm at Johnson Rd, Vitogo, Lautoka for a sugarcane field, similar they may be in appearance but his 21 acres are filled with duruka (Saccharum edule).
This particular crop matures after six months meaning two possible harvests every 12 months or a year. For this farmer, it is different because of his practice of phase planting so he has been harvesting since April.
“I started planting duruka 15 years ago but only ventured into this vast area last year for commercial purposes. I planted the whole area last year and have planned when I start harvest in April, I will try and keep it going be it in-season or off-season and that is what’s happening now,” he said.
His long duruka walk started when his uncle gave him two stalks to plant. Those two were the beginning of a five-line plot which turned into 20.
“The idea came to me when I harvested my first two bundles of duruka. I was by the road waiting for a transport to take me to my sister’s place with my bundle of duruka.
“People passing by in traffic thought I was selling my duruka and stopped their vehicles to ask. The first one I declined, so waas the second and third but come the fourth person I just had to sell it,” he said with a laugh remembering the day he had to ditch the visit to his sister because of that unplanned sale.
That experience by the roadside changed his mind and while walking home that afternoon, Anand set his goal. Instead of being a sugarcane farmer as his neighbours were, he would plant duruka.
“I started tilling three acres as a start. I saw that the demand kept rising and I told myself I had to plant more,” he said.
A pest and fertiliser-free farm, Anand also keeps people from wandering on to the farm by placing beehives on the edge of the farm.
“I plant both varieties green and red duruka and I don’t use fertiliser but I use fallen coconut leaves from my 500 coconut plants for mulching,” he said.
These coconut trees are planted in line with the duruka and used for mulching. They’re also used for his value adding product — the virgin coconut oil — thanks to the advice from the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Duruka planting is easy just like bele or cassava but maintaining its cleanliness takes dedication and time as it is preferred during the dry weather. The Western Division is an ideal place to plant duruka,” he said.
The duruka farm is abuzz when it’s in -season employing eight labourers and three during the off season. With the abundant supply of duruka, labourers are still working.
“We need hands on the farm now that this crop is still rolling. Workers have something to smile about as work continues on the farm without them having to wait for another harvesting season to work,” he said.
“We have labourers allocated to each different crop on the farm and what the farm looks like today is all because of them.”
A labourer of five years, Sunjesh Kumar, is in charge of looking after the duruka farm. He said he had learnt a lot since when he started.
“When I started on the farm, I was not very good at speaking English but selling duruka on the roadside I have to speak in English and in Fijian, as I interact with people of different races every day.
“Patience is another thing as teaching most new labourers various techniques from its cleanliness to harvesting is a challenge as some of them make mistakes but it, after all, is a learning process,” said Sunjesh with a smile.
Sales of duruka from the roadside stall do not last half a day. That’s how brisk trade always is. And Anand is a consistent duruka supplier to the exporter, Produce Merchant.
“Duruka price for road sales during off season stands at $8 a bundle and $5 when its in-season due to competition from other farmers,” said Anand.
With daughters who are interested in the medical field, Anand has been supporting his children in their quest to follow their dream careers.
“One daughter is in her third year nursing while the other daughter is a dental practitioner while the other two stay close to my wife and I at home.”
Apart from beehives and coconut trees, Anand also has passionfruit trees lined to shield the duruka in case there is an unexpected fire.
“I thought of practising intercropping of legumes but due to insufficient water supply I have refrained. I have not lost hope yet as I am planning to start a prawn farm next year and plant assorted vegetables now that I have a borehole.”
The Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), is helping Anand with irrigation to alleviate the problem affecting this farm at Johnson Rd as the Western Division goes through another dry spell.
* Serenia Vilele is an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Source: Fijitimes 27 Nov 2015