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A Korean Christian-based foundation is taking a leap of faith to revive the rice farming industry in Fiji. Grace Road Food Company registered in March and since then says it has invested $3 million on setting up and planning for production in Navua.
This investment has included importing state-of-the-art machinery. With about $7 million expected to be spent altogether to start up the project, the foundation is already employing 30 people on its 83-acre mataqali-owned land. The people are the owners of the land from what is described as the Deuba mataqali. The site is located at Wainidova Road, off Queens Highway after the Navua Bridge.
Grace Road Food secretary, Daniel Kim, said where Korea has only one planting season because of its winter whereas Fiji has two. Hence, it is with this reason, the foundation saw it befitting to start a project here that would benefit Fiji economically and socially.
But unlike the rice industry’s former heydays, where it was hard core labour-oriented, the foundation plans to transform this into an advanced mechanised-farming system, Mr Kim said.
Already, their company has started clearing the site by reconstructing and erecting irrigation canal, exploiting water well and reclamation of land for the construction of green houses.
“For the purpose of establishing advanced mechanised farming, various machines such as tractor, rice transplanter, power tiller, excavator, and bomine harvester have been invested and imported from Korea,” Mr Kim said.
Currently, the company is constructing a warehouse, office, lodging, dry rack, granary and rice mill at the farming site.
“Fiji has all the necessary elements for a successful rice industry, such as the climate, precipitation (rainfall) rate and soil condition. However, research has shown that Fiji imports 85 per cent of consumed rice which creates a high dependency on imported rice instead of locally grown ones.”
Aside from the fact that the local produce is not able to meet the current demand, another major factor why people did not wish to buy locally-grown rice was because of its quality.
“The foundation plans to change this,” Mr Kim said confidently. “We’ve already imported a good stock of rice seeds from Korea which has been through the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji for a thorough quarantine check. “Following this, we will try out the seeds and gauge its adaptation ability to Fiji’s climate and soil. But we are confident we will see positive results.”
Mr Kim travelled many miles around the globe on behalf of the foundation to look for the one country which ticks all the boxes. He travelled on the request of his mother, who is the pastor of their church. Having done so, he said Fiji met all the requirements that were expected and that investment policies were favourable. But it’s not fully about a money-making business for foundation, Mr Kim said.
“It’s about contributing positively to this small yet vibrant country and help people live a healthy life style,” he said.
For now, development is going as planned with about 15 Koreans from the foundation who are helping with the technical support.
“We are not only interested in rice farming but the green houses will be assembled to produce vegetables and various fruits,” he said.
“The company is forging its infrastructure and plans to farm rice in an additional 200-acre land in Deuba.”
When asked why not choose the Northern Division to start up there given that it was declared a rice hub, he said it was impossible to do so because of limited desired farming space. In the long term, the foundation plans to establish a vocational school offering technical expertise in agriculture not only exclusive to Fiji but to the region as well.