Strawberry produce

Paradise Gardens chief officer Martin Rice with farm operations manager Marica Toloi (left) show strawberries grown on their farm at the HOTEC 2018 trade show. Picture: FELIX CHADHARY

AN Irish businessman who has established a hydroponic farm in the Nausori Highlands, Nadi, has successfully grown strawberries.

Martin Rice, chief executive officer of Paradise Gardens Produce Ltd said his “experiment” had proven that Fiji had the ability to grow almost any type of produce, provided the right conditions were made available.

His booth at the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association’s HOTEC trade show at the Denarau Convention Centre drew a lot of attention over the past two days. “I have a 2500-square-metre farm located 22km up from the Nadi Back Rd,” Mr Rice said.

“My focus is growing produce for the tourism sector and so far it has been hugely successful.”

His booth displayed produce grown at his farm and this included herbs like parsley and spring onion, capsicum, tomatoes and seven varieties of lettuce.

He is already looking at expanding his business by establishing 10 more farms and developing local growers to meet market demand.

“My long term plan is to build a training school to teach local farmers how to grow tourism-related produce by using hydroponics and renewable energy.

“Once the farmers graduate from the school, Paradise Gardens will go into a co-operative type of venture with them.”

Mr Rice said apart from being able to meet market demand and provide consistency in supply, it would also build resilience for the industry.

“We will be in a position, should natural disaster occur, to get farms up and running as soon as possible.”

Apart from strawberries, Mr Rice — with the assistance of farm operations manager Marica Toloi — is looking to grow blackberries and blueberries. “The biggest challenge for my business is not growing very challenging produce but weather and road conditions.”

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