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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Government launches national rural rice development programme

Rice development in Solomon Islands takes another step forward, thanks to the Republic of China (Taiwan) for its continuous assistance in providing technical and financial support.
Development of rice in Solomon Islands will now be commercialized in an effort to reduce rice import bills.

The new Minister for Agriculture and Livestock, Trevor Olavae, said during the launching of the National Rice Development Programme today that rice development programme in Solomon Islands wouldl aim at addressing food security through sustainable production for domestic consumption.

Hon. Olavae said: “The Government of the Republic of China continuously providing much needed support in terms of technical expertise and finance, as well as working closely with the Department of Agriculture in many areas related to agriculture development in the country.”
He said rice has now become a staple food. This, he said, reflected in the country import of rice which stood at almost $80 million in 2004.

“The similar scenario will continue in proportion to population increase and population eating habit in 2006. “For a small country like Solomon Islands with a narrow economic base, such a huge outflow of funds from the country is certainly will have a negative impact on the country’s external reserves,” the minister said.

He said given this current scenario one option is to reduce import bills of rice in order to be self-sufficient in domestic rice production.

He continued: “It is on this basis that the government of Solomon Islands has injected $5.2 million in 2005/2006 to assist the Rural Rice Development Programme.”
He said to really substitute the national rice import, the country would require a total of more than 5,000 hectares of rice.

“It is my Department’s long objectives that we can contribute towards reducing this alarming figure between 50 to 65% of rice import. “This programme will address this strategy,” Minister Olavae said.

The minister further said that he would like to see the involvement of the rural population as partners in his departmental approach.

“I would like to see many rural communities involve in rural development as this programme has demonstrated today."

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Mr. Edward Kingmele said smallholder rice development was not so successful so the government is embarking on commercial rice development. He said the programme will start of with 10 projects. Each project must develop a minimum of 10 hectares, he said. After the successful establishment of the first 10 projects, another 10 projects would be developed.

National Rice Coordinator, Mr Mariano Lauga said the 10 projects where selected from existing projects. He said it would take more time to work with new groups if new projects were selected. He said the ten existing projects have ongoing work programmes and are familiar with rice cultivation.

Spokesman for the farmers, Connelly Sandakabatu, Principal of St. Joseph’s Tenaru Secondary School said growing rice is a foreign activity “but we have to grow it.” He said: “We have land and manpower but lack the technicality of growing this crop and such things as chemicals, equipment and capital.”

The Department of Agriculture and Livestock involved in assisting farmers through financial and technical assistance from the government of the Republic of China, Taiwan. Previously, assistance was given to smallholders with 5 hectares per project. The Department realized that in order to really address food security, the next step would be to go commercial. Each project would receive financial assistance for labour, tool and equipment to the value of about $300,000.00.

By Alfred Maesulia

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