Monday, February 25, 2008-www.fijitimes.com
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Times: Macuata has been identified as the province with the highest number of people who have moved elsewhere in search of a better life. As the paramount chief of the province what is your view of this?
Ratu Aisea: That is a fact and is a concern as people continue to move out of Macuata or the Northern Division because of the expiry of land leases.
This has happened since the political upheaval of 2000.
It is because of the lack of employment and study opportunities.
I believe that is why the interim Government has brought in the Northern Development Program, with an investment of $5million.
Most of the population in Macuata were descendants of the Girmitiyas, having cane farms in the province and with the expiry of land leases, they moved out of Macuata.
Times: So you believe the NDP will prevent or halt the vast majority of people moving out of Macuata.
Ratu Aisea: It will help by using the capital provided by the NDP to raise participation of the community in businesses at every level from micro to mega businesses.
This will help and increase development in not only Macuata but the Northern Division.
It will enhance and upgrade the livelihoods of the people as there will be capital available here.
Times: Apart from the NDP assistance, as the paramount chief, what else do you propose to do to change this?
Ratu Aisea: Yes, the chiefs are looking at other things we can do to help the people, one of which one is the qoliqoli where plans are under way to establish a market for fishermen where locals can sell their catch instead of struggling to find markets themselves. We will set up a centre where they can bring their catch to and we will sell it to markets in Viti Levu.
We are looking at a small business scale, like PAFCO, in Levuka, to stand at Naduri, and part of the funding we will apply for to the NDP.
Times: How much will this cost?
Ratu Aisea: We are looking at a quarter million dollars to start off the project for the people of Macuata.
This will be the initiative of the vanua to prevent the rural urban drift as it will create employment opportunities.
Times: When do you expect to open this centre?
Ratu Aisea: It's in phases and right now we are involved with the issuing of fishing licenses, which will close this Friday and the set up of the centre is the next phase of our plans.
Times: Do you feel that the lack of utilisation of resources by landowners and the people of Macuata over the past years has contributed to the slow pace of development in Labasa?
Ratu Aisea: I believe the improvement of the economy in the North lies with the people and even though resources can be a source of finance when marketed, the problem was with the technical side of it where mills are needed to produce furniture or there were limited markets for the products.
Like with honey, farmers have struggled to find markets, so I believe the problem was with the market and technical assistance because if these were available a decade ago, then Macuata would have been fully developed by now.
Times: Cane leases have expired, tenants have been displaced and yet it's an irony there is so much idle land around. What is your opinion on the members of your province who demanded land back but have done little or nothing to improve it?
Ratu Aisea: We are mobilising that right now by working with the Native Lands Trust Board to create and change the mindset of landowners to capitalise on their cane farms.
We are looking at the total involvement of landowners in the cane industry from leasing to farming to marketing instead of just receiving lease money.
We are working on landowner involvement in the production of ethanol and we believe landowners should be shareholders in whatever companies we will work with or set up to produce ethanol.
Times: What do you think of the suggestion by an Indian consultant to dereserve reserved land?
Ratu Aisea: I believe that not all reserved land are to be derserved but the reserved land that is not being cultivated or made use of.
However, a very good consultation and negotiation is to be done with the landowners where the sugar industry can be allowed to use only small areas of reserved land where landowners will benefit greatly.
But not all reserved land is to be used because it is part of us passed down from our forefathers and should be kept aside for our future generation for their own use.
Times: Are there any plans by chiefs to discuss with their people renewal of land leases because basically this town is suffering economically because of the land problems?
Ratu Aisea: We are working with the NLTB and our people talking to them about getting involved with cane farming themselves.
So it will be a different approach altogether as the landowners will have another option to cultivate their own land and not necessarily renew their leases, which they will decide themselves