How Bold Moves Turned Our Sugar Industry Around

December 25, 2018
Charles Chambers (Fiji Sun Online) |

Resilient, a word so emphatically used by the Prime Minister to describe what Fijians are all about. Especially in the aftermath of disasters when all seems lost and the light at the end of the tun­nel cannot be seen.

This is where the sugar industry was after Tropical Cy­clone Winston, as what little sugar we made was finding it hard to be sold on the world market.

Big players, like Brazil and India were the major play­ers and countries like Fiji were made to sort of live off the scraps and hoped that some country would need that extra sugar and buy a quota.

Chairman Vishnu Mohan, chief executive officer Gra­ham Clark and chief operating officer Navin Chandra were given the difficult task of finding the markets and at the same time, get the industry back on its feet at home.

The dwindling number of farmers, closure of the Pen­ang Mill and the high negative stances by some against the industry would have sent many packing.

The burden was heavy, but they decided to soldier on.

With the opening up of the European Union market in 2017, the struggle became even harder.

Even as far back as 2015, the DW, or Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster wrote “Fiji’s all important sugar industry is struggling. With the EU opening its markets in 2017, the Pacific nation stands lit­tle chance in the world market. Making the sugar sector more sustainable could be the solution.

“But the sugar industry is in a crisis. Dilapidated fac­tories, outdated production units and an aging farming population are just some of the problems it faces. In 2003, the country produced 400,000 tons of sugar while 10 years later, output had halved. About 125,000 tons of that were exported to the European Union.”

“The biggest problem for Fiji is that it’s far removed from all the markets,” Sergey Gudoshnikov, an econo­mist at the International Sugar Organisation (ISO) in London, says.

“Fiji needs to look for new markets that are closer than the EU. For instance, Malaysia or China.”

Such was the outlook of Fijian sugar.

Mr Bainimarama decided on some brave decisions that many politicians would not have taken and provided some remedies.

Government provided that opportunity through grants and suddenly the industry went into recovery mode.

Mr Mohan and his entourage did travelled the world in search of markets for they knew, like the PM and his Government, that many lives were dependent on this in­dustry for their livelihood.

As Mr Clark put it – “we have just gotten off our knees and started to walk again, but we will soon be hitting our strides.”

So quick, one may think, but imagine the turnaround in the world market today – buyers are running after FSC to purchase Fiji’s sugar – never heard of.

Suddenly we are on the Wanted List.

This has come as a result of over 80 of Brazil’s sugar mills facing liquidation and the shift from producing sugar to ethanol production.

The hard work and resilience has paid off.

We have shown that Fijians will not go out without a fight.

Such is our character.