SPEECH: HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE OPENING OF A NEW DORMITORY AT NAVUSO AGRICULTURE SCHOOL

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be here in Navuso today to mark another significant event in the rejuvenation of this once great institution. And to lend my personal support to help Navuso resume the position it deserves in our national life.

I am not just here to open the new boy’s hostel, but to encourage you all to pursue the excellence that we all know this place is capable of. Because it was once great and we are determined to make it great again.

Over many years, the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has done the nation a great service by producing many young farmers to contribute to Fiji’s agricultural base. Someone of my age can recall that in the 1960s and 70s – for instance -Navuso was a highly respected institution.

Indeed, one of its former principals, Douglas Walkden-Brown, eventually became Minister for Agriculture in the Fijian Government after Independence.

That tradition continued for some years. But over time, I think we can all agree that Navuso lost its way. This was a great shame. Because that neglect was not only at the cost of the livelihood of many ordinary Fijians with an ambition to take up farming, but the nation’s food production as a whole.

As we all know and recognise, my Government’s relationship with the Methodist Church hasn’t always been easy. In fact, we have had some strong differences over the Church’s proper role in national life. And I still think that far too many talatalas are more intent on playing politics than catering for the spiritual needs of our people.

But I am sure we all agree that it is important to give our young people the best possible chance to gain the skills they need to make sustainable and prosperous livelihoods for themselves in the farming sector and contribute to the nation’s food production.

We also agree that it is simply not acceptable for Fiji to continue to import foodstuffs that could easily be grown in here – and even exported – if we make a determined effort to work together to give our young people the right training to expand our food production.

So today, I want to emphasise our unity of purpose – not our differences – when I say that the Government fully supports Navuso’s core objective to train farmers for one of Fiji’s most important priorities.

We must give more Fijians the opportunity to enter the agricultural sector by equipping them with the best possible skills and training. We must offer them the prospect of making healthy and sustainable livings for themselves, their families, and through that, the wider community. And we must all focus our minds on reducing our dependency on food exports and making Fiji a powerhouse of food production.

We are doing this as a Government with a range of scholarships and incentives – notably working with the Fiji National University – to attract more young Fijians into farming. And we intend to assist Navuso Agricultural School to do the same.

In March 2013, I promised that we would assist Navuso to improve its infrastructure. And the opening of this new dormitory today is a promise fulfilled.

To the young people who are students here, I have much the same message that I take to schools and colleges around the country. Take advantage of the education revolution that this Government has provided – working hand in hand with institutions like the Methodist Church – to seize the opportunities that have been given to you. Work as hard as you can. Dream big dreams. Reach for the stars.

But also be aware of this: By wanting to be a farmer, my Government regards you as one of the most important development partners we have in improving the lives of our people and developing our economy.

When I say dream big dreams, it is no longer enough just to tend your own plot – your own teitei – to grow crops or rear animals for your own needs and the needs of your community. We need to move Fiji in the direction of larger scale food production. And that means acquiring new skills as you move through your studies.

You need to learn not only how to grow things and rear animals, but the more commercial aspects of farming. How to market your produce more effectively; turn your activity into a serious business; expand your potential to make more income for yourself; provide employment for others who don’t have the advantage of your training, and help grow the Fijian economy.

Farming is a business like any other. And with hard work and imagination, you too can be a successful businessman or businesswoman and contribute to the wealth and prosperity of the Fijian people.

I pay tribute to the current management and staff of Navuso for sharing these principles. I’m told that your curriculum has become a lot more holistic and business-orientated. At the end of the program here, trainee farmers will be provided with proper business plans for farms of their own that they can take to a bank to get funding.

I urge everyone to ensure that these plans are viable, realistic and factually based to give you all the best possible chance of success. Too often in the past, farming businesses have failed because they haven’t met the proper standards.

We all need – as stakeholders in our economy – to adopt the best practice of any business – integrity, transparency and accountability. Because the more successful trainee farmers we can produce, the more our banks – as well as potential investors – will be prepared to provide the necessary finance.

My Government – working with the Methodist Church – will do everything it can to help you. But success or failure is ultimately down to you.

So again I say: Work hard. Seek the best possible advice from your teachers, read more about best practice in agriculture, take advantage of my Government’s Telecentres and other tools you have access to – to explore the world of knowledge about farming and give yourself the best possible shot at success.

Thank you to all of you who have made this new hostel possible. I now have great pleasure to officially declare it open.

Vinakavakalevu. Thank you.