Bachmann, Lorenz B. R.: Review of the Agricultural Knowledge System in Fiji - Opportunities and Limitations of Participatory Methods and Platforms to promote Innovation Development -


Chapter 4. Fiji: country and agricultural development

This chapter serves the purpose of providing an introduction into the country and it‘s agricultural sector. The chapter begins with a description of the country‘s basic conditions for agricultural production. This is followed by an analysis of agricultural development in major commodities.

4.1 Basic facts

4.1.1 Geography

Fiji is located in between 15° and 22° southern latitude and 177° western and 175° eastern longitude. The date line, which would separate the country in two zones, is indented towards the east to include all islands of the Fiji group. Out of the 332 officially registered islands only about 100 are inhabited. The two main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu account for more than 85 % of the total land area (18,272 km2) which is about equivalent to one quarter of the size of the German federal state of Bavaria. The larger islands are of volcanic origin and very mountainous. The highest peak Mount Victoria reaches 1324 m. In contrast, most of the outer islands are flat atolls with very limited land area, coraline soils and coconut palms as the dominant vegetation.

Administratively, the country is divided into four divisions. The main island is divided into a western division (north-western side) and the central division with the capital Suva in the south-east. The second largest island Vanua Levu together with Taveuni and Rotuma build the northern division. Kadavu, the outer islands of the Lau group and Ovalau, with the old colonial capital Levuka, form the eastern division. The two main islands are less than 100 km apart and well connected by air and sea links. However, some of the outer islands are up to 800 km away from the main island and transportation is very limited.

Despite improvements in the transport systems, these islands‘ remoteness is still a major constraint factor for development. The distance to the closest markets in New Zealand and Australia is 2100-3000 km (Berlin - Casablanca), Japan 7000 km (Berlin - Calcutta) and the American market is at a distance of 9000 km (Berlin - Johannesburg). These long distances lead to high transport costs that hinder trade between countries and also increase the cost of providing administrative services and facilities such as schools and health centres on national level (European Commission 1989, 8).

4.1.2 Population and ethnic groups

Using the 1986 population census data, the population in Fiji was estimated at 803,000 for 1998. Following Papua New Guinea, Fiji has the second largest population of the small island states in the South Pacific. However, in the global context all Pacific Island countries together account only for 0.14 % of the World population (Table 8).


Table 8: Fiji in global comparison.


Population 1998 (million)

Percent of total

(1000 sq. km)

Population density 1998

Growth rate p.a. (1980-85)







Pacific Islands



1 349




3 363


27 160






30 307



Latin America



20 535



North America









4 933




5 927


135 793



Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census 1999, A-3; Statistisches Bundesamt 1988, 31.

Since the beginning of the century, the population in Fiji has grown more than sevenfold. The largest increase occurred in the two decades following World War II. The population growth rates of the then 3 % per year have dropped to 1.2 % today. This being the result of a family and birth control programme that started in the early 1970s. Together with the family planning programme in Singapore this success was considered a model for the third world countries (Connel 1984, 307).

Today‘s Fiji is a multicultural society of indigenous Fijians, Indians, Chinese, Europeans and other Pacific Islanders. Before the colonial times, only Fijians and few other Pacific islanders populated the islands. Late in the last century, up to 1916, the British colonial Government invited workers from India to settle in Fiji and work in the sugar plantations. Most of these workers stayed and the Indian population grew steadily. By its independence in 1970 the Indian population already outnumbered the indigenous Fijian population. This led to increasing conflicts between the two ethnic groups. Soon after the Indians won the political elections for the first time in 1987, two military coups brought the indigenous Fijians back to power. The military coups led to considerable political unrest and many Indians migrated overseas. This caused a severe loss of skilled labour and urban elite. Though, the ethnic tension was high, the conflict never escalated in open violence. Several attempts to solve the conflict and re-establish a democratic constitution failed (cf. Yunus Rashid 1995; Vasiti Waqa 1994). Finally, in 1997 a new democratic constitution could be agreed on and for a second time an Indian politician was elected Prime Minister. It may be hoped that this sensible attitude will further guide the countries‘ political developments in the future<34>.


4.1.3 Climate

Surrounded by the huge Pacific Ocean, Fiji has a moderate tropical climate. There are two main seasons. The rainy season (summer) from November to March and the dry season (winter) from April to October. The rainy season is largely determined by the southeasterly trade winds that carry huge amounts of precipitation in summer. The large islands of the group all have distinct dry and wet zones. The southeastern parts of the islands receive in between 3000-5000 mm of precipitation as the clouds hit the main mountain range first. In the lee, the northwestern side of the islands is much drier with 1800 to 2500 mm of precipitation. The same drier climate applies to the low-lying atolls. The southeastern zones receive rain throughout the year with rather little differences in winter and summer, while the northeastern zones have a marked dry season from June to September. Of importance for agriculture, is the high variability in rainfall. The chance of having actual rainfall close to the average in any given month is quite small. For example records at Sigatoka research station, which is representative for a dry zone climate, show that every month in the period of 1927-72 was either the highest or the lowest rainfall month (CHANDRA, 1979, 6).

Fiji has relatively mild temperatures, a reflection of the oceanic influence on the climate. Temperatures are warm throughout the year with daily averages around 25° C in winter and 28° C in summer. This is also the season when tropical cyclones occur. These cyclones cause heavy windstorms and flooding. Minor cyclones come to pass almost every year. Larger devastation, due to cyclone storms is recorded on average every four years, severe flooding every five years (Chandra 1983, 6).

In recent discussions, global warming is often argued as a factor that might even increase the number of events and intensity of the cyclone storms. Another associated effect, sea level rise, would represent an immense danger for all Pacific Island countries. While small atolls could even be submerged by the sea during storms, larger islands face extensive flooding of low lying areas and damages to the reefs with unpredictable consequences for the overall eco system.

4.1.4 Topography, land use and major farming systems

Due to its volcanic origin, most islands of the Fiji group are very mountainous. Almost 70 % of the land is on steep slopes and, in particular in the wet zone, still largely covered by rain forest. The remaining 30 % of land is partly flat or gently hilly and constitutes the major agricultural areas. Arable agriculture is possible on flat to gently rolling country, whereas agro forestry or pastoral farming systems can be extended to relatively steep slopes. Out of the 1,820,000 ha of total land, flat and gently hilly land combined, constitute about 590,000 ha. This demonstrates the small size of the available resource base. According to the 1991 agricultural census, all this land is already being farmed (Mpi 1992, 84). Hence, most suitable farming land is in use and further expansion will go to an increasing extent into marginal lands with higher risks of soil erosion and degradation. Figure 8 depicts the major type of land uses.


Figure 8: Land use and economic structure

Source: adapted from Statistisches Bundesamt 1986, 80.


Despite the rather small size of the country, factors that determine agricultural production are surprisingly variable. Consequently, a large number of different farming systems exist. A detailed description would be outside the frame of this general introduction. Chandra (1983, 46) describes a simplified model for farming systems that uses the rainfall as main criterion and distinguishes three rainfall zones. The model is presented in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Crop and livestock enterprises in relation to rainfall

Source: Chandra 1983, 47.

The model represents only a simplified distribution pattern of crop and livestock enterprises, as all enterprises are to some extent actually farmed in all zones. Most of the agricultural activities are concentrated on the main island, Viti Levu, because this is where most markets and the best infrastructures are. The remaining islands have a much smaller choice in agricultural activities, as they face the difficulty of small consumer populations, restricted markets, low infrastructural support and poor accessibility.

4.1.5 Land tenure

Land is a very sensitive subject in Fiji. To understand the current land distribution and land rights, it is essential to have a closer look at the historic development.


As it is the case with many of the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific, the life of the Fijian is very much bound with the land. It represents his major source of security, and is the only permanent material asset he and his children possess. The social customs and nature of the Fijian are such that it is almost impossible for him to acquire (or rather retain) what more sophisticated societies regard as material assets. The Fijian, therefore, places tremendous value on land and feels entitled to it. He regards retention to this entitlement as the essential safeguard of his heritage. The Fijian system of land tenure is, basically, one of entailed freehold, and is closely tied to the Fijian social structure. The Fijian way of life is based on closely related family groups, living together in villages, cultivating well-defined land areas originally acquired by conquest or occupation of empty land. Several such family groups, claiming decent from a common ancestor, are linked in a larger social unit - the mataqali (or tokatoka, or yavusa).

First changes to customary land tenure began to creep in when the first settlers arrived and bargained with chiefs for land to establish plantations. It was not until the middle of the last century that chiefs realised that the land they had given, had in fact, been alienated from them for good. Faced with the treat of becoming landless, the chiefs tried to cede Fiji to a powerful authority. Negotiations to cede Fiji to the British crown started in 1874. The Terms of the Deed of Cession divided land into three different groups of land ownership system. These were:

Figure 10: Partition of land

Source: own design.

Because native land was not allowed to be sold except to the crown for public purposes, the concept of leasing began to emerge with the enactment of the Native Lands Ordinance in 1880. With the restructuring of the sugar industry in 1916, plantations were dissolved and the land was offered in small lots of 3 to 6 ha, to the Indian contract workers for lease. This colonial decision built the basis for ongoing land disputes (Ortlepp 1986, 36).

Unable to buy land from freeholders (mostly Europeans) and from the Fijians, as it was illegal, Indians demanded better security of tenure and compensation for land improvements. In an attempt to solve these land tenure problems, the Colonial Government set up the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) in 1940.


The Board, as a non-Government corporate body, acts as an estate agency with the following main functions:

Land legislation was revised again in 1967 with the Agricultural Landlords and Tenants Act (ALTA). The leases were concluded for a period of 30 years, thus, many of the leases would expire from 1997 onwards. This created considerable social unrest for the two main ethnic groups. According to a recent report of the NLTB (The Review 1994a, 22), Fijians argue that “as a direct result of the colonial paternalistic attitude, Fijians were largely discouraged from actively taking part in Fiji‘s economic development. This is vividly reflected in many acts and regulations solidifying communalism and discouraging individualism.“ Today, Fijians are increasingly aware of living in a cash economy, and would like to take back part of their best native lands, which are leased out. On the other side, the Indian farmers would like to have the renewal of their leases and the payment of compensations in the cases that leases are terminated.

Continued uncertainty about the settlement of the land question, lead to a stagnation of investment in agriculture, which is felt, in particular, in the sugar belt. The issue was discussed frequently in Parliament; however, no for all parties acceptable, solution could be identified (cf. The Review 1994b, The Courier 1996, 13). Recent surveys indicated that 70 % of the leases might be renewed and that Government will offer a resettlement scheme for those farmers that cannot achieve a renewal of their lease<35>.

4.2 Productivity development of selected crop enterprises

The current chapter examines the actual production development for a selection of important crops. The central aspect of the analysis is to assess the performance of the Ministry in promoting agricultural innovations in order to diversify agriculture that is heavily concentrated on sugar cane production only. Observing and analysing innovative developments has some methodological difficulties. One way to assess innovations would be to study statistics on the technology developed and the respective adoption rates by farmers. However, the Ministry does not maintain such statistics. Therefore, a different approach is taken here. As a simplified correlation it is assumed that yield or production increases are caused by agricultural innovations. Thus, increases in crop yields or


production are considered here as an indicator for innovation development and the existence of successful research and extension services<36>.

Therefore, a look at the countries crop production statistics for the last two decades is made. Production areas, total production and yield for a number of crops are compiled in Annex 2. The production figures are illustrated with the help of three charts. Figure 11 depicts the development of total production from 1976 to 1998 for major crops. Figure 12 depicts the development of yields in the same reference period. To which extent production changes are influenced by changes in the cropping area or yield is analysed in Figure 13. The data of Annex 2 is modified by regression analysis to calculate the average area growth in % per year and the average annual yield growth in % per year. The findings for all charts are discussed together for each crop.

Sugar cane is grown in the drier western climate, which has a high annual variability in rainfall. For this reason the production shows a strong annual fluctuation. In the reference period, production ranged from 2.2 to above 4 million tons. Sugar cane production exceeds the production of the second largest commodity rice by a factor of 200. This illustrates the dominant role of sugar cane within the Fijian agricultural sector. Sugar cane yields show a similar variation as total production, and varied in the range of 40 to 60 t/ha. Overall, sugar cane productivity could be rated as stagnant for many years. The regression analysis showed that cane yield has slowly declined with - 0.2 % per year. Another alerting fact is that current cane yields are below average by world standards (Landell-Mills 1991, C2-2). Overall, however, sugar cane production rose slightly as the area under production increased steadily with about 1.7 % per year. These figures illustrate that apparently no major innovations to raise productivity could be introduced. On the contrary, productivity was on a slow decline. These findings are not good results for the privately owned research and extension services of the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC).

Rice production followed a humpback course during the reference period. Starting at about 20,000 tons, it rose to above 30,000 tons by the late 1980s, only to drop to below the starting figure in 1998. The production rise was achieved by a large rice scheme financed by the ADB. The project promoted a comprehensive package of ’green revolution‘ type innovations, including fertiliser, pesticides, improved varieties, training, irrigation, harvesting machinery and enhanced milling capacities (Overton 1988, 147). The project is now considered a complete failure with the 1994 local rice production being 20 % below the production before the project intervention and a drop in national self-sufficiency from 52 to 43 % (Maff 1995, 9). Rice yields reach 2.2 t/ha and rose slowly in the reference period by about 1 % per year. But in the same time the production area declined at a similar rate (-0.75 %) which explains the overall drop in rice production. Thus, rice can be considered as an example of innovations being developed, but obviously not being able to be introduced successfully into practice.


Very hopeful was the development of mature ginger in the eighties. Production rose from 1,000 tons in 1976 to above 6,000 tons in 1987. The entry of new exporters and better marketing promoted this development. However, since then, farmers faced increasing disease problems and the production declined to 2,170 tons in 1998. A grower shift from mature to the less diseased immature ginger partly compensated this effect. Production rose from 200 tons in the seventies to 2,550 in 1991, only to drop to about 850 tons in 1993. Since then, production and area have been on a gentle upward trend again. Yields for immature ginger rose from 1 t/ha to almost 3 t/ha in the early nineties. The regression analysis shows that this corresponded with an annual increase of 6.7 %. The area under production rose even faster at a pace of 9.1 % per year. These figures illustrate that ginger is an example of innovations being promoted quite successfully for a certain period of time. In this respect, a certain success in crop diversification could also be achieved. However, new efforts are required to fight the disease problems. Ginger now contributes only 1 % to agricultural export earnings, and therefore, even if the disease problem can be solved, it is evident that the crop can only play a niche role in agricultural diversification with a potential in the range of 2-4 %.

Figure 11: Production development for major crops

Source: data from Annex 2; 1) figures for sugar cane in 100,000 tons.


Figure 12: Yield development for selected crops 1976-1998

Source: data from Annex 2.

Figure 13: Average area and yield growth in % per year for selected crops 1976-1998

Source: data from Annex 2; data modified by regression analysis.


Maize was promoted as a diversification crop in the late seventies with production reaching 8,000 tons in 1980. However, since then production dropped to 1,300 tons in 1998. The regression analysis shows that the main reason for the decline is a reduction in production area of more than -5.7 % per year and an average yield reduction of -2.1 % per year. This long decline of almost 20 years indicates a clear lack of attention to this crop by MAFF.

The production statistics for the main staple food, taro, were not kept very consistently, and there are only production figures available for certain years. These show a strong rise in exports from 1,900 tons in 1993 to 6,800 tons in 1998. The main reason for the rapid export growth in the nineties lies in the recent introduction of taro blight in Western Samoa (Brown 1995, 77). Production there was virtually wiped out by this terrible fungal disease, and Fiji managed to overtake an increasing part of Samoa‘s market share in New Zealand. This example shows that Fijian farmers and exporters were able to respond to new export opportunities quickly. The rise in production was, thus, not caused by innovations in the classical agronomic field (e.g. varieties, production techniques) but purely by an expansion of production area due to the new marketing option.

Copra production declined steadily in the reference period from 26,700 tons to about 8,400 tons in1994. According to de Taffin (1993)<37> the major reason for the decline in production lies in the fact that the Fiji coconut palms are ageing, increasing numbers of palms are senile and replantation levels are far too low. This explanation is also confirmed by the regression analysis showing a slow decline in the area cultivated of - 0.1 % per year and a dramatic decline in yield with an average of - 5.1 % per year. Nevertheless, copra remains the main source of income for many rural Fijians, in particular for the population on the outer islands. For this reason the Minister announced coconut as new (old) priority crop for MAFF in 1996. A coconut rehabilitation centre with hybrid seed garden and coconut nursery was built on Taveuni Island to support the nation-wide campaign for coconut replantation. However, to date, replantation targets could not be met and farmers are still reluctant to plant new palms<38>. It remains to be seen if the introduction of high yielding hybrid palms, as currently supported by MAFF, can reverse the negative trend. Similar to rice, coconut is a commodity for which innovations were developed, but as yet could not be introduced successfully into practise.

MAFF also made attempts to promote the production of cocoa, coffee and vanilla. However, all these efforts were not very successful, with production volumes remaining at very modest levels<39>. An area were some progress was made are fruits and vegetables. In the five year period 1976-80, fruit and vegetable exports contributed on average only 0.8 % to all agricultural exports. In the period 1994-98, the average of fruit and vegetable exports had already reached 5.0 %<40>. For these crops, no detailed individual crop statistics were available. However, the overall increase in exports for fruits and vegetables indicates that innovation development and diffusion in this area was more successful. Compared to other crops, fruits and vegetables might have the best potential to contribute to the country‘s goal of export diversification in the near future.


The examination of production and productivity development for various crops depicted a mixed picture. Sugar cane production and yields stagnated over the last two decades. This


is an indication that the privately operated research and extension services of the Fiji Sugar Corporation did not manage to innovate production techniques significantly<41>. A small increase in production could only be achieved via an expansion of the area under cane.

MAFF, responsible for all non-sugarcane crops, equally faced difficulties in diversifying and innovating agricultural production. The majority of crops examined in detail indicated only moderate progress or even failures to expand production (rice, coconuts, maize). Limited success was achieved in respect of ginger and the recent development for taro was equally encouraging. Among the crops reviewed only briefly, cocoa, coffee and vanilla were further examples for stagnating or declining production. Only the area of fruits and vegetables showed a significant increase in exports.

Considering the few cases of successes, the performance of the Ministry in terms of innovation development and diffusion can only be rated as unsatisfactory. A profound analysis of the reasons for successes or failures is outside the scope of this introductory chapter. However, a few important points shall be made.

Although several innovations were developed, the fact that farmers did not adopt these, is an indication that farmers‘ needs and problems were not properly taken into account. Production conditions at farm level and on international level were not sufficiently analysed. This deficit certainly contributed to a limited economic viability of innovations. This may be seen as one major reason for technology failures.

To reach the goal of export diversification, a good analysis of markets and innovations that promote local competitiveness are required. Furthermore considering, that all suitable land resources are in production, future development will have to focus on increased production intensity and efficiency. Unless this is achieved, further expansion of production is likely to lead to increased cultivation on steep slopes. This concern is raised in various publications.<42> However, little empirical information on the real extent of the problem is available. The first results of Howlett (1995, 39) on soil erosion in Fiji and other Pacific locations indicate that the concern of soil erosion may be overestimated. Problems of soil degradation exist, but they are by far not as pressing as, for example, in sub-Sahara Africa. Nevertheless, the question of the sustainability of farming systems and effects of innovations will need to be given more attention in the future.

This represents a considerable challenge for existing research and extension services to develop and disseminate appropriate innovations. The following two main chapters will take a detailed look at the main players involved with innovation development and diffusion in Fiji, and identify solutions as to how the situation may be improved.



Unfortunately, new political unrest was triggered in May 2000, when a group of indigenous Fijians assaulted Parliament and took a large group of members of Parliament including the Prime Minister hostage. On condition of a new review of the constitution, the hostages were released. The full impact of this new political crisis is not clear, yet It may be anticipated that this will cause a new economic crises and lead to new losses of skilled labour due to the migration of Indian citizens (cf. Ministry of Information 2000, several press releases in May to July 2000).


Sunday Times: Weekly review dated 8.8.1999.


Changes in production may not always be caused by innovations, but also climatic factors and prices of commodities may have a substantial influence. This limitation must be kept in mind. Nevertheless, in the absence of precise data, the indicator permits at least an indirect way of assessment and a tentative judgement of the impact of research and extension services on crop production.


CIRAD coconut expert. Festive speech during the inauguration of the new EU funded Coconut Rehabilitation Center on Taveuni Island 6.3.1993.


Samisoni Ulitu. Director Extension. Personal communication 30.11.1995.


Production statistics were too irregular to allow a meaningful analysis.


Own calculations based on Fao 2000.


A detailed review of the Fiji sugar industry comes to similar conclusions and highlights many problems of the sector (cf. Landell-Mills 1991).


Soil erosion problems and aspects of sustainable farming practises are raised by Rogers (1992) and Nakalevu (1994). The problem is also discussed in detail in the national environmental strategy (cf. Government of Fiji and Iucn 1993).

© Die inhaltliche Zusammenstellung und Aufmachung dieser Publikation sowie die elektronische Verarbeitung sind urheberrechtlich geschützt. Jede Verwertung, die nicht ausdrücklich vom Urheberrechtsgesetz zugelassen ist, bedarf der vorherigen Zustimmung. Das gilt insbesondere für die Vervielfältigung, die Bearbeitung und Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronische Systeme.

DiML DTD Version 2.0
Zertifizierter Dokumentenserver
der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
HTML - Version erstellt am:
Thu Mar 29 16:23:51 2001