Oct 22, 2019 Last Updated 2:59 AM, Oct 16, 2019

Fiji’s Sugar Cane Growers’ Fund (SCGF) is calling on Fiji’s working population to buy sugar cane farms, as more farmers go out of business and defaulters plague its loans portfolio. 

SCGF’s chief executive officer Raj Sharma told Islands Business that the fund currently has 11 cane farms on mortagee sale, with some going for as low as $15,000.

And it is inviting members of the Fiji National Provident Fund – who can now also borrow from SCGF – to consider investing in these properties or cane farming in general.    

“If someone has found a farm in the Western or Northern Division and has agreed with the owner on a price, you can go to FNPF to check your housing eligibility and if more money is needed, we can lend that balance to you based on our lending criteria. And you become a registered canefarmer,” Sharma said.

Yesterday, SCGF’s status as one of FNPF’s approved lenders was officially announced by the two parties and is a fresh attempt to encourage participation in an industry that is slowly buckling at the knees from decades of politicisation and unaddressed infrastructure deterioration. 

Sugar has, over the years, lost its status as Fiji’s major agricultural commodity, export earner and employer, supporting almost a quarter of the national population.

Total lending by commercial banks and credit institutions to the industry has dwindled from what used to be over $10million in the early 2000 to a mere $1.6million in 2018, according to Reserve Bank of Fiji data.

Sugar exports too have been inconsistent.

RBF’s provisional estimates anticipate a huge drop in sugar export earnings for 2018 – from a projected $178.6m in 2017 to just $78.5m. 

If this happens, it will be the second time since 2000 that sugar’s annual revenue has dropped to below $100m – the last time was in 2010, when sugar exports fetched only $70.1m in export earnings. 

These days, the industry is struggling to keep its three sugar mills afloat as millions of dollars in losses are recorded by the government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation, who owns the mills and buys the cane. 

Farmers are also leaving the land – their population had dropped from over 18,000 in 2008 to a little over 16,000 in 2017, according to FSC’s 2018 Annual Report. 

Old issues such as burnt cane and low sugar quality are now joined by a new problem in termites that suck cane dry well before harvest time, causing thousands of dollars in losses for farmers in the Western division.     

As a lending institution set up by government in 1984 to cater specifically for cane farmers, the SCGF has also been sorely hit, with around 15 percent of its $30m loans portfolio attributed to farmers defaulting on their loans, according to Raj.

Not only is it inviting FNPF members to buy sugarcane farms, SCGF is also begging defaulting farmers to stay on through a ‘back to farm’ incentive package it launched yesterday.  

“That applies to farmers who can’t pay their loans.  Instead of taking legal action against them, we're telling them to come back to the farm, we are giving you interest-free rates plus $2,000 to restart the farm. That starts today (yesterday) and goes on for the next 3 months. It ends on December 31,” Raj said. 

These farmers too can now use their FNPF housing eligibility to pay off loans arrears.

FCGF has over 16,000 registered cane farmers, of which, according to Raj, around 11,400 are active producers and who benefit from FCGF’s loans services.

The Pacific nations are set to jet off to Japan with less than a month to go till the opening of the Rugby World Cup 2019. The entertainers of rugby, the South Sea Islanders are looking to once again set the Rugby World Cup stage ablaze.

Tonga, Samoa and Fiji were part of the Pasifika Challenge Event held at New Zealand rugby’s sacred ground, Eden Park last weekend.

Samoa and NZ team, the Heartland XV faced off in the first thrilling encounter, ending with a 36-19 victory to Manu Samoa. The Samoans dictated most of the passages in the game and a strong finish in the second half saw them scoring a total of five tries compared to 3 from their counterparts.

As coach Steve Jackson had mentioned ahead of the match: "We've named an exciting team and there's some guys out there that are going to be playing their first games so it's going to be great for them."

There were three debutants for Samoa, Crusaders tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa and Southern Tornadoes Number eight Tofatuimoana Solia started in the line-up while Queensland Reds halfback Scott Malolua was among the reserves.

Seasoned at first five eight, Tusi Pisi proved to be decisive as always with Ed Fidow and Ahsee Tuala causing havoc on the wings. Tim Nanai Williams made a timely return to the side at fullback in the hopes of making the World Cup squad selection. He was also a huge factor in Samoa’s attacking game.

Captain and openside flanker Jack Lam led his troops from the get-go and put on a man of the match level performance. The 6.1 ft tall, 103 kg no.7 will be one of the players to watch during the Japan RWC 2019.

The second Pasifika Challenge clash was a tight contest between Tonga and Fiji at first, until the Fijians finally found their rhythm to finish the game 29-19 on top at full time.

Tonga started brilliantly with a tremendous try in the corner to Captain and outside center Siale Piutau to open the exchange, but Fiji immediately struck back with one of their own from Josua Tuisova.

The Tongan forwards were utilising the size and strength up front and the maul was working well for them as they scored one from a lineout drive. A try was awarded to hooker Paula Nagauamo, and was followed by another free-flowing passage and ridiculously good pass and support play by the Flying Fijians giving Vereniki Goneva a taste of the white chalk.

Fiji head coach John Mckee was particularly happy with his boy’s performance but still feel they still have a lot more to offer: “We worked very hard in our phase defence and at goal line defence at times. I think the players also made some good individual tackling in the game. We need to brush up on few areas; when executing the ball which was evident in the first-half.”

Other Fijians to score tries were Semi Kunatani, Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Sam Matavesi. Tonga manage to get one back, but it was too little too late, as the deficit was too much with time running out.

The Tongans were awarded many penalties in the first stanza but fail to capitalise and convert those opportunities into points. They opted to kick for touch in all occasions. It was obvious that Tonga were not concerned in making easy points in the test match but were rather playing to find the right combination and improve their set pieces as they build up for Japan.

The test match was a stepping-stone to fine tune and brush up on team tactics despite the comments made by head coach Toutai Kefu earlier in the week. "We have our best team on the park, so we want to win. That's our goal”, he said. However, a change in tactics was very evident last Saturday in Auckland.

Tonga has one last test match against the All Blacks this coming weekend with Samoa also taking on the Wallabies to complete their RWC preparations.

Fiji issued their traditional farewell to President Hon. Joiji Konrote at the State House Conservatory today followed by a Sayonara Gala dinner at Sofitel, Denarau before departing for Japan on Friday.

Fiji's superyacht marina, Port Denarau Marina Ltd (PDM) today listed its shares on the Suva-based South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) following an oversubscribed Initial Public Offer (IPO) that saw it sell down over 11 million shares, three million more than its initial intention of 8 million. 

This has brought 600 new shareholders to the company after Day One of trading. 

Data released by SPX today saw a total of 11,640,943 PDM shares with a total value of F$14.95 million changing hands.

That included a special trade of six million shares facilitated at a discounted price of F$1.26 per share and brokers confirmed this was from an institutional investor.

PDM shares opened at its IPO price of F$1.31 and gained 9 cents to end the day at F$1.40 per share. 

Griffon Emose, managing director of Kontiki Capital Ltd, parent company of lead broker Kontiki Stockbroking, described the take up as "really good", helped in a big way by the company's already established reputation.

"Just to be clear, this wasn't a capital raising exercise.  It was actually a sell down of shares.  PDM before this only had one shareholder, from New Zealand, but in order to list on SPX, you have to meet certain criteria.  One criteria is you have to have at least 20 per cent of your shares held by the public and you have to have a minimum of 50 shareholders.  PDM didn't need the funds as the company is already well funded. So they had to sell down the shares in order to meet the criteria of listing on SPX," Emose said. 

He said while most buyers – about 95 percent – were from Fiji, overseas investors also came on board, from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United States of America. 

"The minimum was for F$500 worth of shares and we had some that came in with several millions of dollars. Some institutional investors also came in." Emose said.

He said SPX's ability to directly approve foreign investors to buy and sell shares on the stock exchange has made it easier for foreign investors to participate in Fiji's share market. 

"SPX is open to everybody and the good thing is the government has delegated to the stock exchange the ability to allow foreign investors to come into the market.  Normally, foreign investors would need to obtain foreign investors approval, so that has been delegated to SPX but only for trading in listed companies," said Emose.  

PDM director Nigel Skeggs described the day as a special one for the company, which has been in his family for 20 years and under his stewardship since  2006.

 "There were several reasons for us choosing to be on the stock exchange but the primary one is that the marina being such an important tourism infrastructure for Fiji, we felt that after 20 years of us developing it, we needed to look at some Fiji ownership.  So we really want the public of Fiji to get involved, it was a way of giving back to Fiji and we had a lot of support. And of course, obviously there are the incentives that come with listing on the stock exchange, in particular the 10 percent company tax," Skeggs told IB Online. 

PDM is now the first tourism related company to list on SPX and there are hopes that this would be followed by more listings from the sector.

Note: this story was updated at 8.36pm Fiji time.

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues: “There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed  Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.   

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated: “We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

Fiji’s award winning marina, Port Denarau Marina Ltd (PDML) has launched an Initial Public Offer (IPO) in Fiji, with intention to raise over F$10 million and to list on the South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPX) following the offer’s scheduled closing on the first week of next month. 

According to its offer document, available online on SPX, 8 million PDML ordinary shares are now on offer at F$1.31 per share, bringing the proposed total capital to be raised to F$10.48 million.

The 8 million shares on offer represent 20 percent of the company’s issued shares. 

Apart from broadening the company’s shareholder base from its current single shareholder, the offer also aims to raise capital to help finance future expansion plans and current developments, some of which are outlined in the prospectus, such as “a new Marina reception, amenities and office block as well as dredging to expand the superyacht marina, both of which are due for completion in the second half of 2019.”

“Since the purchase of the marina assets by Skeggs Group Limited in 1999, PDML has been at the forefront of Fiji’s largest industry, tourism. In its most recent financial year, PDML’s marina on Denarau Island saw some 495,000 tourists, representing over 54% of Fiji’s annual tourist numbers, transiting through our facility,” said David Skeggs, chairman of Skeggs Group Ltd, the sole owner of PDML.

“In addition, the Marina had 23 foreign cruise ships visit and welcomed over 400 yachts and 54 Superyachts to our facilities. These numbers have grown steadily over the years and are set to continue on this trend, reflecting the strength of Fiji tourism as well as the importance of Denarau Island, and the Marina in particular, as the ‘gateway’ for marine tourism.” Skeggs added.

He said over the years, the company has invested significant capital to bring the Marina facilities up to world class standards in their design, ambience, efficiency and safety and every effort is put into ensuring that the Marina’s operations work in harmony with its marine environment.

Recent developments include the reclamation of the foreshore creating over half an acre of additional space for the installation of an architecturally-designed tent structure to extend the main passenger terminal and check-in facilities.

This is in addition to current work underway on the new Marina reception, amenities and office block.

“We are excited to highlight additional developments in the pipeline including the Denarau Marina Mall and Apartments development. All this is part of PDML’s vision of developing a world-class tourism destination designed around the Marina, which acts as an important hub for Denarau Island and Fiji,” said Skeggs.

PDML’s after tax profit during its financial year ended July 31 2018 was $2.89 million, while in the six months ended January 31, 2019, it posted F$1.11million in after tax profits. 

The offer period is from July 9 to August 6, 2019 and listing is expected to take place in mid August.

Anyone interested in buying shares is advised to contact a licensed stockbroker.

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