Sunday, May 25, 2008
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Naqara at about 6am before the shops open and business starts for the day
TAVEUNI is indeed an island with great potential, or to simplify the word potential, it's an island with loads of cash.
During my one week stay on my island home, young farmers in their mud-covered jeans and torn T-shirts were seen buying cell phones and other expensive material from hire purchase outlets or doing big time shopping in supermarkets at shopping centres on Taveuni.
Money earned for such big time shopping did not come from a week's work in an office, but from a few hours on a dalo farm, with the root crop packed and later sold at the local market.
Naqara which is the main shopping centre for the people of Taveuni, is a two-minute walk from Somosomo Village. It may not be called a town but it can get as busy as any town on Viti Levu.
Although shop owners may only get busy towards the weekend, taxi drivers are on their toes all the time with farmers hiring most of them for farm trips.
Taxi fare is not cheap on Taveuni but farmers afford the charges which could cost up to $40 one way or $80 return to Qeleni, $20 return to Wairiki, more then $100 return to Vuna, if your dalo or yaqona farm is there and $30 return trip to Soqulu.
But despite these high charges, taxi drivers interviewed say they are busy most days during the week.
Taxis on the island are mostly twin cabs trucks, four wheel drive vehicles and vans because of the condition of the roads.
For Mohammed Hussein, who moved from Suva two years ago to join his relatives at the Naqara settlement, his taxi business is thriving.
"I used to drive a taxi in Suva but getting jobs and earning good money was tough because there were a lot of other taxis in the city area and people also preferred to catch the bus as it was cheaper," Mr Hussein said.
"Since I moved to Taveuni, I have seen a big difference in the daily taxi earnings and farmers here have a lot of money."
He said in a day, he would take at least three trips to farms in the Qila and Matei areas or down towards Wairiki.
"And from those three trips, I can earn at least more then $100 a day apart from other short trips for other passengers," Mr Hussein said.
Farmers would leave for their dalo farms about 6am, uproot their crops according to the quantity they want and return to Naqara to sell at the market.
And with the cash received from that sale of dalo, they walk across to Court Homecentres or to Morris Hedstrom at Somosomo Village to do their shopping.
A visit to MH's newly constructed outlet saw groups of young farmers fill up trolleys to the brim with basic food items such as 10 or 25 kilograms of rice, sugar and flour, big bottles of mayonnaise, soya sauce, three to four packs of noodles, one or two buckets of biscuits, containers of ice cream, toiletries, and other expensive groceries that most people have tried to budget today because of the high prices.
After clearing their shopping at the counter, I followed two members of the group out of the supermarket and stood at the verandah to see which vehicle they would hire.
They headed towards a red Mitsubishi Pajero in the car park and loaded their shopping.
The two cousins, Petero Matai and Iosefo Batita, both in their mid 20s, are dalo and yaqona farmers who live up in Matei.
"Bula vina'a," they responded.
"You are not the first person to wonder why farmers in Taveuni have so much money but yes, dalo has enabled us to buy our family Pajero and do this kind of big shopping."
Petero, who completed his secondary education at Holy Cross College in Wairiki, six years ago said he had applied to study at the Fiji Institute of Technology to further his studies.
"I didn't get through so I just decided to stay home and help my family with the dalo and yaqona farm and I have not regretted that decision because farming has given us a lot of money.
"Maybe, if I had graduated then, I could still be searching for a job today but I still have plans to further my studies and that is why I am saving my fees from farming," Petero said.
Courts Homecentres Taveuni branch manager Uma Nand said when the price of dalo is high, the staff are always on their toes because farmers keep coming in to purchase items.
He said with the low price of dalo, most farmers now spend their cash buying cell phones.
"Last year the price of dalo was high and we were busy throughout and had good sales, but this year, the price has been low and although we are not so busy, the farmers have continued to come in and buy cell phones with cash upfront.
"Dalo farmers are our big time customers on the island of Taveuni and when the price is high, our staff are always busy. Christmas season is always our busy time," Mr Nand said.
For businesswoman Chandra Kumar who moved in from Nausori last year to run a supermarket at Naqara, sales have been better than her years of business on Viti levu.
"Before moving to this island, I used to be a wholesaler for many businesses on the island and they were my major market," she said.
"I used to get more orders and they buy in bulk from my wholesale business so when I moved here last year, I knew I was coming to operate a business in an area where high cash already existed.
"The cash flow on this island is very high and I have not regretted moving here to run my business."
Mrs Kumar said her ten wheeler trucks hired to take dalo to Suva can take 70 to 80 tonnes of dalo a week.
"Dalo has been the major source of income for Taveuni people and they earn more than what most office jobs pay.
"The people here don't bargain or ask for discount. Whatever price we put down, they buy without hesitation - that shows the kind of money they have," Mrs Kumar said.
According to reliable sources, financial institutions need to put more then $50,000 into ATMs on the island for the weekends for big spending farmers.