Caption: Amkar at his pineapple farm. His sugarcane field is seen in the backgroud.
As a sugarcane farmer, Amkar Prasad 55, of Lalakoro in Seaqaqa knows all too well that when the time comes to give up farming, he has no retirement fund on which to lean on to take care of him in his twilight years. It was with this in mind that he set about putting into motion a backup plan that includes 40 sandalwood(santalum) of the paniculatum species which he planted as his retirement investment three years ago.
“I don’t have superannuation deducted from my income like most working people so I planted the sandalwood trees as my retirement money because sandalwood fetches a good price,” Amkar said.
Sandalwood is a class of fragrant wood tree valued for the essential oils extracted from its core. Depending on the species, the trees are harvested anywhere from seven to 20 years of age. Both the wood and the oil produce a distinctive fragrance that has been highly valued for centuries. Sandalwood was a much sought after commodity in the Bua Bay, Vanua Levu in the early 19th century. Bua in iTaukei means sandalwood.
Locally, sandalwood fetches up to $200 a kilogramme or $200,000 a tonne. According to the Department of Forestry, last year sandalwood exports amounted to $2.59MM – trending upward from $1.57MM in 2011 and $2.27MM in 2010.
While Amkar waits for this sandalwood plantation to bear fruit, he continues to work his 33 acre farm of which approximately half is under farm to sugar cane of which he harvests between 300 to 400 tonnes annually and 10,000 pineapples. He also does a mixed crop of vegetables for his family’s subsistence. His farm is also diversified to include 20 heads of cattle and 25 goats.
Sugar cane is doing well this year with the current price at $62.58 per tonne which is expected to increase to a record $80.74 per tonne by the end of the year. Last year, the cane price was $58 per tonne.
Amkar took over the farm from his mother-in-law Indra Wati in 2002 with her permission and a power of attorney after she relocated to Suva. Indra is a client of the bank and by proxy, Amkar as well. Amkar has since taken steps to take over the lease, the transfer of which is currently in progress.
The farm has been financed under FDB’s all-purpose sugarcane product since 1998. The product offers financial assistance for land development, land purchase, construction of farm house, farm vehicles, machinery, equipment, implements and working capital to eligible sugar cane farmers.