PEOPLE: Bananas from Ra

Pita Baleiwaqa with his main income earner for his family. Picture: VILIAME RAVAI

It has a history that goes far back in time, that’s why it’s one of the fruits revered on the national banner blue.

Bananas, somewhat of a forgotten fruit in Fiji, were once the crucial commodity for trade.

However, in this day and age bananas continue to be a survival fruit for most families living in the Ra highlands where the fruit grows abundantly.

Pita Semasa Baleiwaqa, 36, is one of those banana farmers in the upper district of Nalawa who travels to Suva every Monday to sell his produce.

The former Nasau District School and Navesau Adventist High Secondary School student had plans to further a career in automotive engineering at the Fiji National University, however, along the way he decided to farm and returned home.

“While back at the village, I realised that I had to continue my studies so I returned to FNU and took up domestic wiring, but I didn’t complete the trade because of financial problems.

“Like every iTaukei household, those that failed to pursue academically in schools usually returned to their villages to farm.”

Baleiwaqa said he moved back to his village and stuck to farming focusing on growing bananas. In 2009 the Nukuilau villager met the love of his life from the same province and later tied the knot.

“I never regretted my decision to start a family back in the village and I have four children now to look after,” he said.

Baleiwaqa said he managed a daily routine to maintain a steady flow of his harvest for the markets.

Baleiwaqa said the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the business because a lot of his customers were out of work and during this time he would allow them to bargain prices.

“I have more than 2000 banana plants in the village and I normally harvest the banana from my farm every Thursday and Friday.

“Every Monday I transport them to the Suva Municipal Market. I always hired my brother’s vehicle which cost $200 for one way.”

Baleiwaqa said most farmers today didn’t realise how easy it was to plant and harvest because farmers didn’t need to manure or to clean the plant every week. He said bananas were good income for the family enough to cater for travelling cost and other expenses.

“Once you plant one tree you can get another four plants out of it when you harvested the first plant. I encourage those, who like me dropped out of school, to consider farming.

“You can go back to your villages and till the land because the answers to your problems are there.”

Baleiwaqa said he had sought the Ministry of Agriculture’s assistance to give him more advice about his land and hopefully get some assistance to expand his farming business.

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