The 69-year-old retired school teacher Master Kishore, as he is fondly known is no stranger to the local media.
On many occasions, he has highlighted the plight of sugarcane farmers in Lautoka in his capacity as President for the Lautoka District Cane Farmers Association. One hundred farmers in Paipai depend on weather and meteorological observations.
He shared the interpretation of climate data assists in preparation for sugarcane calendar of activities, including best times for land preparation, planting, cultivation, fertilizer application, weed control, planting of subsistence crops and the harvest of sugarcane for his 16 acres of farmland in Paipai.
“You can see my land on the other side. I have already harvested 50 plus tonnes in this area and very soon I will grade it, plough it and I will plant new cane there.”
“But whenever we want to plough the land and prepare the land for planting, there are certain things we need to consider, sugarcane needs to be planted at soil temperatures between 28°C to 32 °C, the climate, the rainfall and the most important - sunlight. If we work according to all these things, the sugarcane result is always good,” said Master Kishore.
advisories to sugarcane farmers through the quarterly bulletins released by Fiji Met.”
According to Ms. Pillay, recently temperatures in Paipai have dropped to 13°C. A drop-in temperature affects sugarcane growth.
With sugarcane farming, everything has a process and has an order. When the crop is approximately five to six months old, sugarcane is meant to grow in height. The cane takes on nutrients from the soil, sunlight and temperatures must be approximately 16°. A decrease in temperature to 13°C sets in the premature process of sucrose accumulation that should take place when the cane is 9 months old. Thus the yield by weight decreases, resulting in sugarcane being stunted.
Rainfall and temperature in correct measures contribute to a good crop. ‘Mana' sugarcane variety predominately grown in Viti Levu, requires enough sunlight and just the right amount of rainfall and temperature for sugar content to increase.
The cane belt areas in Fiji is divided into 38 sectors, that have 38 rain gauges recording rainfall each day and accumulated month. Sugarcane production is good when there is enough rainfall for the period December to March, a period when temperatures are expected to be very warm.
According to the SRIF Acting Chief Executive Officer, Prem Naidu, the 120 days from December to March, Fiji’s peak hot weather time, farmers need 70 to 80 days of rain for good sugarcane production. Rainfall along with good sunshine during this month has proven to have a good effect on sugarcane.
May to July is Fiji’s coolest months and temperatures are expected to be low to maximize the sugar inside the cane stock.
“We look at certain years and see when production is high, we go back and see how the weather has played its part. Sometimes you will hear in the media, how many tonnes it takes to make one tonne of sugar and when that number goes up, we know that the weather was not very conducive for sugar formation, said Mr. Naidu.
Rainfall outlooks provided by FMS also affect mill operation said Ms. Pillay, “for example, when the rainfall outlook is above average during harvesting season, the mill operation is likely to be longer as there would be a significant hindrance in harvesting and transportation of harvested cane to the mills in wet condition thus appropriate budgetary provisions need to be made to cater for this.”
It is, therefore important that farmers are provided with accurate weather information.
The RESPAC project funded by the Russian Federation supports FMS and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) in the region to build a platform in which the science of capturing, storing and analysing climate and meteorological data can be better understood by Meteorological offices and by all end-users. A crucial component of the work involves the collecting and recording of quality climate data that can be repackaged as information to help communities, businesses and local industries in their planning, preparation and decision making.
In August and September of 2018, the UNDP RESPAC project provided two training sessions to build capacity and skills for climate observers. The refresher training on Climate observations and Reporting workshop held at FMS saw 60 participants from various sectors including the Water Authority of Fiji, Energy Fiji Limited, National Disaster Management Office, Ministry of Agriculture, SRIF, FSC attend to improve quality of climate reporting from across Fiji.
Mr. Prakash said “RESPAC came on board in 2018 with assistance to train our observers and technicians because we saw a deteriorating standard of reporting from our people who were taking observations from the field. So, RESPAC helped us greatly to improve our manual weather observations as well.”
FMS Trainer, Sajiva Nand said "If we don't train them to be competent in the field, the accuracy of the data drops and our standard drops. The support rendered by UNDP helps improve FMS services.”
Availability and access to climate information is important; allows Fiji to forge confidently with decisions related to core industries that contribute enormously to the economy, and importantly contributes to the strengthening of climate resilience by taking the science-based information of the Fiji Meteorological Services on board.
This article was first published in The Fiji Times on Saturday, 7 December 2019 titled 'Keeping a check on the weather.'