SPEECH: PM AT THE HAND-OVER CEREMONY FOR CHINA AID-FIJI RICE TECHNICAL MACHINES

Your Excellency, the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellences, Members of the Diplomatic Missions,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here today to officiate the hand-over of the China Aid Fiji Technical Rice Machines – a valuable contribution towards our efforts to revitalise Fiji’s rice industry.

What is being handed over today, is the result of technical co-operation between Fiji and The People’s Republic of China. The China Shandong International Economic and Technical Co-operation Group Limited has provided much-needed assistance to rice farmers in Dreketi and Koronivia – bringing in 11 different models of rice machines from China, worth a total of $5 million.

Earlier this year, I accompanied the Minister for Agriculture to visit the Koronivia demonstration site and see how this project would benefit rice farmers in the region. I was able to see first-hand the great work being done by the team to boost our rice industry. And I am happy to report that the project is progressing well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Rice is one of the major staple of the Fijian diet, but the rice industry itself has travelled a difficult road. Not so long ago, we came face to face with the fact that our rice industry was using severely outdated production technologies. And this posed a serious threat to national food security. To combat this, we’ve begun promoting large-scale rice cultivation—encouraging rice farmers to increase their acreage and getting more farmers to grow rice. This is boosting rice production throughout the country. But that isn’t enough: To make sure our rice industry emerges as a competitive and modern operation, we are shifting away from traditional rice farming towards mechanised farming. That can only happen when we have new technology available to us, and that is why this hand-over is so valuable.

These machines will help bring Fiji’s rice industry closer to self-sufficiency – by helping our own farmers meet our domestic demand, which will reduce our dependence on rice imports. When we are able to provide Fijians with crops grown right here in Fiji, we improve our food security and make ourselves more resilient to changes in the global marketplace.

We need to join the rest of the world in mechanising our rice farming. Modern rice farming is less labour-intensive and much more efficient than traditional rice farming. Our farmers will have higher profits, and profits encourage more investment. So modernisation is the key to increasing yield, putting more land under cultivation, and creating dynamism and enthusiasm in the Fijian rice market.

To make sure we get the greatest possible benefit from this new technology, the Government of China will also be providing mechanical experts who will teach proper use and maintenance to our farmers. We are grateful for this expertise, and I am confident that our farmers will prove more than capable of learning how to operate and maintain these machines.

When we are able to combine these new machines with farmers trained and qualified to use them, we will restore our rice industry, increase production, reduce our imports and improve our food security. The positive impact of this new technology will extend far beyond the farms in Dreketi and Koronivia to reach our own consumers, by making certain that this major dietary staple is always available and the price is stable and affordable. There is also the opportunity of having organic rice farming which we must explore to gain a comparative advantage by using the Fijian brand.

Government’s commitment to building a robust rice industry does not begin or end with this hand-over. We will continue to research new rice varieties and rice cultivation techniques because we recognise the importance the rice industry holds for our economy. If this effort lacks our full dedication, our rice industry will not live up to its potential. We need to get every stakeholder involved and improve coordination among everyone involved in the industry to unite us in our goal of achieving a self-sustaining rice sector.

As other development aid and investment opportunities arise, we will take full advantage. As the industry faces new challenges, we will provide support. And as new technology becomes available, we will use it to further develop our rice industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here to celebrate the rebirth of our rice industry and to thank our Chinese friends for their support. But I would like to ask for your attention while I discuss another subject. It is really not related to rice except that rice is a life-giving staple, a pure and wholesome grain that supports and sustains families, helps children grow, and is a part of the daily mealtime rituals that bond family members to each other.

For the foreseeable future, I will be using every opportunity I have to condemn the epidemic of domestic violence in Fiji. It has been going on for many, many years. Every culture has its beauty, its charm and its ugly underbelly, and domestic violence has become the ugly underbelly of Fijian culture. It has been allowed to persist for too long. It came to be something we lived with. It wasn’t pretty, but it had always been with us, for as long as any of us could remember. And so it was one of those ugly things we learned to live with. But we can no longer accept it.

Violence against women, children, the elderly and the weak diminish us as a people. It creates fear and distrust, it robs people of their potential, and quite simply, it is cruel. Domestic violence causes greater pain than other forms of violence because it is such a profound betrayal committed against family members by the very ones who should be giving love and protection.

My Government has changed laws to protect women and children from abuse, by increasing the sentencing regime including new offences of sexual assault and removing the archaic rules of corroboration which has made it difficult to obtain successful prosecution. But laws alone, even strictly enforced, are not enough to stop it. It is not just about shaming the man who beats his wife and children or to shun the rapist and make him reluctant to show his face in public. But we must shame or shun the person who even thinks about doing it in the first place. We must prevent it from happening in the first place. That is why I am speaking—to ask every Fijian to look deep in his or her heart and declare that this must stop in our country.

Now, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to close by thanking the Government of China and the China Shandong International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group Limited for sharing this technology and their expertise with our local farmers.

I would also like to thank the rice industry stakeholders present today and all around Fiji for the work they’ve already done and for their continued commitment in turning this industry around. Use this gift to your benefit, and together, I know that we will be successful.

Vinaka vakalevu – Thank you.