CAPTION: Virendra with one of his limosine bulls.
Like his father, Kaliyan Singh, 71, Kamal Virendra Singh, 41, of Nakorovou,Bua is a well-known live stock farmer in the northern division.Like Kaliyan, Virendra too was born and raised on their Nakorovou property which runs alongside the main Bua/Dreketi highway about 28 kilometres from Nabouwalu where livestock such as sheep, goat and cattleroam freely on the 342 acre property.
“Like most kids, I wanted to be like my father.His hard work and dedication on the farm inspired me. He only went up to class eight leaving school in 1959 to start working on the farmand he has gained so much through hard work. These days he does very little farming but he still does provide a lot of advice,” said Virendra whose own academic pursuits saw him complete his high school education at fourth form in 1986 at nearby Naikavaki secondary school.
The farm holding is a combination of two leases. Thefirst 54 acreplot where the original farm restswas leased by Viren’s
grandfather,Maan Singh in 1922. An additional 288 acres was leased from the Anglican Church in 1925. The only assistance the two men get with managing the farm comes from a recently recruited farm hand named Peni to help in managing a stock f 150 goats and more than 100 cattle and 100 sheep.
A head of cattle can go for upwards of $600 live weight at the farm gate and from time to time sheep and goat are brought across to Suva where they are sold for around $130 each.
The Singhs became clients of FDB in 2011 when they took an agricultural loan to purchase 15 dairy cows, a portable milking machine as well as improve fencing and pasture for the farm. The milking cows produce about four litres of milk each on average or 52 litres a day which Virendra’s family turn into ghee which is sold at the Labasa market for $15 per 750ml bottle; and ice-block confectionary, which are sold to school students passing by.
“We are very thankful to the FDB for the timely assistance and my experience with them has been very good. They have good interest rates and arrangements for payments are easily made when we face some difficulties. They are very understanding,” said Virendra who also has plans to expand the livestock herd to include pig farming.
Thetoil by three generations of this hardworking family over the last 91 years has not gone unnoticed having earned kudos for their contributions to the livestock industry. The father and son have amongst their spoils, the 2011 northern division sheep farmer of the yearand the 2012 sheep farmingaward, presented by theMinistry of Primary Industries;consecutive wins in the 2011and 2012 dairy farmeraward given by the Bua Provincial Council andthe 2012 FDB small business awards for the agriculture category. The Singh’s farm is used as a model farm by the MPI for the province.
Early last year, further improvements were made to the farm with the installation of solar panels and a battery bank to help with the family’s electricity needs. Previously reliant on a diesel generator, the increasing fuel costs prompted Virendra to seek assistance from FDB to make the conversion to renewable energy.
Financed under FDB’s sustainable energy financing facility (SEFF), the solar energy source provides sufficient electricity to power the fridge and chest freezer that they use to store meat and milk for sale as well as the television and other smaller appliances.
SEFF finances sustainable energy sources such as hydro, energy efficiency appliances and equipment as well as coconut oil fuel in addition to solar. This facility is accessible to farmers, cooperatives and other businesses at concessional interest rates and a partial guarantee from the World Bank for eligible entities.
With the $228MM Nabouwalu/Dreketi highway under construction, the business opportunities for farmers like Virendra that are located along this arterial stretch is expected to take four years and will cover some 70 kilometres of sealed roads. When completed, the road will support the sugar industry, mining, forestry, agriculture and tourism in addition to peripheral services that are normally associated with these sectors.