PEOPLE: Farmer invests in suki business

Romulo Bui Namata with his suki ( Fiji Tobacco) ready for the markets after he harvested and dried them from the interior of Navosa. Picture: VILIAME RAVAI

The interior of Navosa on Viti Levu is also infamously known as one of the major suppliers of marijuana due to the numerous police raids over the years and discovery of recent drug farms that continue to tarnish the imagine of this mountainous marvel.

However, not all farmers in Navosa are associated with the illicit drug as villager Romulo Bui Namata explains. He is one of those successful farmers who stuck to his tobacco farming and the wait has paid off. Local tobacco or suki business had rapidly risen in the recent years because of high demand, some say, maybe a result of rising cost of cigarettes annually.

A suki costs a dollar while a packet of cigarettes cost about seven times more.

The Keiyasi villager, who was raised in a family of 13 siblings, said he was taught to stay away from marijuana cultivation and to focus on planting basic produce. “In the village we’ve always relied on our farm for survival.

My parents would advise us if we were not doing well in school, the land was another way to survive,” Mr Namata said.

“I attended Bemana Catholic School with all my brothers and six sisters. I only reached Year 4 because my dad had four wives and I was the son of his fourth wife, living back in the village. I didn’t take education seriously at the time because I thought that it was not useful to us.”

Instead, he and his seven brothers worked on their farm planting dalo, cassava, watermelon, corn and tobacco.

Namata said tobacco farming had been part of his life. The 67-year-old has become better experienced as a farmer and talks highly about tobacco farming.

It used to cost $30 for a 1kg of tobacco in the market years back now the price had risen to $130 a kg.

Namata said it was important to put a lot of effort into planting tobacco because it took him only three months before he harvested fully grown tobacco leaves.

“Some may think it is an easy process, but tobacco plants require proper attention in order to get the quality that the market demands.”

It needs a lot of sacrifice. After harvest leaves are dried properly before rolled, a process he knows by heart, before it is sold.

Transportation can be a challenge, but Namata said he got used to travelling by truck along Valley Rd to Sigatoka.

Mr Namata works with his daughter who collects orders in Suva and he usually waits for her call before he travels down to Suva.

“My daughter is a teacher in a school in Suva, I always travel to the Capital City whenever she calls requesting for tobacco.”

Mr Namata said he brought rolls of tobacco to Suva every fortnight.

“I’m so lucky that my daughter helps me out with marketing my tobacco. I also collect orders from market vendors at both Lami and Sigatoka and would return with five to six kg to cater for those orders.

“If you look after the tobacco farm very well, the tobacco will look after you too. Sometimes I get orders from as far as Australia and I also cater for them.”

Mr Namata said the tobacco plants on his farm were strong in quality and taste. As age was catching up with him, he said tobacco was an easy way to earn money because it only took three month before harvest was ready.

He said tobacco farming had given him a good life and earned him enough income to cater for expenses as a father and a growing family.

Namata said one had to be steadfast with God and hardworking to be successful.

Lessons he hopes to pass on to his grandchildren and show them more about the secret benefits of tobacco farming.

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