MEDIA RELEASE: STATEMENT FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ON DAMAGE TO CANE CROPS IN THE VICINITY OF THE YAQARA PASTORAL COMPANY LIMITED

The Government has put in place a series of measures to deal with the issue of stray cattle damaging sugar farms in the vicinity of the Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited (YPCL) in northern Viti Levu.
Contrary to claims being made by the leader of the National Federation Party, Biman Prasad, that the Government has failed to adequately address the complaints of local farmers, a comprehensive program has, in fact, been underway since last week to resolve the issue.
The Ministry of Public Enterprises sent a team of investigators to the Yaqara area on 3 September 2015 to examine complaints by farmers that stray cattle had caused damage to their sugar cane crops. This team recorded the complaints of farmers and also spoke with representatives of the YPCL.
A report was produced which upheld the complaints of some farmers that stray cattle from the YPCL had damaged their crops and the company has been directed to compensate those affected for any losses.
In other cases, it has been found that damage was caused by wild cattle, which have been prevalent in the area for some time. The report concluded that the problem has been exacerbated by the scarcity of pasture and water caused by the current drought that has gripped the region and is forcing cattle to seek whatever food they can find.
While the drought persists, YPCL has undertaken to reduce its stock from 4,500 head of cattle to 3,000 and to make provision for adequate feed and water within its boundaries. In relation to damage caused by YPCL cattle to surrounding farms, the Ministry of Public Enterprises is currently assessing the extent of that damage and is working with the Ministry of Sugar and the Fiji Sugar Corporation to determine the level of compensation.
The Ministry spoke to all 11 farmers who are claiming compensation. Six have lodged claims while the remaining five are still to provide the Ministry with details.
The Government’s response to this issue has been timely, comprehensive and designed to address the concerns of local farmers in the fairest possible manner. And we again stress that compensation will be paid wherever it can be conclusively established that cattle from YPCL caused destruction to surrounding sugar cane farms.
The compensation process will commence in the next few days and in the meantime a number of initiatives have been instituted to tackle the underlying issues. Apart from reducing its stock numbers, work has begun to repair any broken fences and this will be completed by the end of the week.
In addition, YPCL has employed an additional 5-10 night riders in the problem areas of Vitivanua, Rabulu, Dramasi, Balata, Nanuku, Wailevu and Vatukacevaceva to control any cattle straying at night. YPCL has also assisted the affected farmers with fencing material and last week constructed 300 metres of fencing around crop gardens at Draunivi Village. This work is ongoing.
So by any reasonable standard, this is an effective Government response to the problems these farmers are facing and the suggestion by the NFP leader that we have somehow been negligent is completely false and unwarranted.
Instead of responsibly trying to establish the truth, Biman Prasad has – not for the first time – chosen to try to make cheap political capital out of the legitimate concerns of these farmers, which the Government is already addressing.
It is yet another example that while the Government continually responds to the needs of ordinary Fijians, the Opposition is reduced to merely trying to exploit whatever challenges they face for its own political purposes.

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