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Cattle Farming Ready For Big Come Back


By Chris Leua

Cattle Farming Ready For Big Come Back

About eight kilometers east of Honiara, a party of around 15 men were busy erecting wooden posts and stringing barbed wires around the precincts of a 220-hectare grassland. There were no cattle in the paddocks as yet, but visions of little hoofs stomping under the overgrown rain trees are starting to become a reality.

The group headed by Patrick Sakuman, a former employee of the Livestock Development Authority (LDA), is presently rebuilding the former government Tenavatu Farm and Research Center. The reconstruction is carried out in preparation for one of the most significant agricultural imports in the post-conflict years expected to arrive in the country in January next year - a herd of 700 cattle deemed most suitable for the country's climate.

After the successful signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Ghaobata and Tenavatu Landowners (GTL) last month, the farm, situated near Foxwood, is now undergoing its initial phase of reconstruction.

On Friday last week, a combined delegation from both the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) and Chiefs from GTL, made an assessment visit to the farm, now re-named the Tenavatu Quarantine and Breeding Farm, to observe the progress of the reconstruction since work started on September. The initial work currently undertaken includes the construction of fencing perimeters and a stockyard, clearing of paddocks which are densely covered with forests, and the clearing of the ground-breaking area in the old Tenavatu football field.

Cattle Herd

Permanent Secretary of MAL, Edward Kingmele, said the farm, initially, will be the quarantine and the breeding site the proposed 700 heads after their arrival from Australia early next year. Four small-holder cattle farms from Malaita and three from Guadalcanal will benefit the first offspring of the pregnant herd.

At the farm, the herd will be allowed to breed while Agriculture and Quarantine officials continue to monitor the growth, health conditions and adaptability of the young calves. When the responsible authorities are adequately satisfied with their progress, the newly-born calves will then be distributed to the intended farmers.

Mr Kingmele said much of the funding for the National Cattle Development Project (NCDP) was made possible by the assistance from the Republic of China (Taiwan) who has allocated $10-million for the importation of the first herd next year. While the first importation is earmarked for farmers in Malaita and Guadalcanal, other provinces will be included in later imports.

"The Department has its plans for the annual importation of 700 heads. This figure is likely to increase depending on the success of the first imports. And when the Department can establish that the first import is successful, we are looking at annually importing pregnant cows within the next five years. And with the subsequent imports, we will be able to carry out the National Cattle Development Project that will cater for as much small-holder and nuclear cattle farms throughout the provinces as much as possible", said Mr Kingmele.

He added the importation of the first herd will depend almost entirely on the completion of the construction of the Tenavatu Farm expected to be in December.

Contractor Mr Patrick Sakuman envision the completion of the stockyard in early December. That is, if there is no hiccup in the provision of finance by the Ministry to ensure reconstructions progresses in a consistent manner.

Project Manager of NCDP Duddley Wate revealed the construction of perimeter fences will have been completed by the end of the month should the required materials are made available to contractors. Four contractors have been assigned to carry out in the building fences.

At the t ime of the visit, only less than 500 meters of fenceline remains to be dug and erected with posts. Putting up barbed and plain wires remains the only task to be done, said Mr Wate.

Ground-breaking Ceremony

Despite some of the hiccups encountered during the reconstruction, which are mostly due to finance, logistics and land issues, a planned groundbreaking ceremony is also an important aspect of the farm rebuilding. A six-man committee is being formed between MAL-Livestock and GTL to organise the ground-breaking ceremony and to discuss what each party should contribute towards the official ceremony.

Proposed for December at the earliest, the ceremony is also expected to coincide with the formal ratification of the partnership agreement outlined in the MOU signed earlier. Mr Kingmele said the MOU is now before the Commissioner of Lands and the Attorney General's Office for formal endorsement.

The result of the partnership agreement and the eventual signing of the MOU was made possible after years of on-going dialogue between the Tenavatu landowners and the Ministry.

Although the consultations has to start from scratch as the former Tenavatu Station have been left in desolate ruins after the 2000 crisis, the partnership agreement has been well received by the landowning units who are also actively involved in the reconstruction process.

"The relationship between the Ministry and the landowners is very cordial. The partnership will receive its formal blessing during the official opening of the Farm. Once the formal processes are over, the Ministry will in turn look at ways to maximise benefits to the farmers under the arrangement."

The Permanent Secretary also attributed the immediate response from the landowners and their eagerness to resume cattle farming as a significant factor in the quick implementation of the Tenavatu project.

Meanwhile, the partnership agreement is having favourable response from many interested cattle farmers throughout the country, with many farmers already making known their intention of entering into the same agreement with the Ministry.

"Most of the local farmers have their fences and other relevant infrastructures needing repairs or other forms of assitance to be able to be in operation again. Many farmers see the partnserhip agreement as a solution to achieve that end. And with good reason. The cattle industry in the country needs to be rejuvenated", Mr Kingmele said.

Farmers Projects

Apart from financial assistance rendered to farmers in the form of tools and equipment, under the proposed partnership agreement, landowners are also awarded goodwill payments for the use of their land. The Ministry will be also providing young calves to new or existing farms associated with the National Cattle Project.

For the ear-marked cattle projects in Guadalcanal, their work program and budget are being actively pursued and implemented by way of brushing fence lines, digging of posts and brushing of paddocks since last month, October.

First cash payments totaling $7,650 for initial developments were made to the three farmers, also in October. In the case of the four farmers in Malaita that are also selected as part of the project, it was decided that their case needs further sorting out and was temporarily put on halt due to some complications in the implementation of that particular component of the project.

Nevertheless, all of the Malaita farmers are determined on carrying out their projects and most of them are already made progress in their preparations, Mr Kingmele said.

One cattle farm visited by the delegation at the Ngalibiu area has a healthy herd of 18 cattles. According to the owner of the ranch, Arthur Mane, it took some eight years to be able to reach the current number of cattles from just one bull and one cow he had started with.

Farmers, however, need assistance in one form or another, said Mr Kingmele. "Whether it be assistance in tools, equipment, barbed wires, nails or just proper advice, we may have to start all over again, but at least, the Ministry is offering to get the industry back up and operating."

Food security

An important component of the National Cattle Development Project is attempting to decrease beef imports while ensuring food security in beef production.

According to Mr Kingmele, beef imports to the country each year amount to $10-million, a staggering sum for country that has enough resources to develop its own cattle industry. Furthermore, imported beef are comparatively expensive, say, if we can just imports from other Pacific Island countries.

Mr Kingmele said during a recent trip by MAL officials to Vanuatu last month, it was found out that the cattle industry in Vanuatu has been very successful that made it possible for them to slaughter up to 80 herds in one day and exporting them to mostly European and Asian countries, while still able to cater for the demands of the domestic market.

It is this scenario that MAL is working towards with the National Cattle Project, he said.

However, the most important success of the Vanuatu trip was the proposal for the direct import of beef from Vanuatu.

"While we continue with our breeding programs and try to address food security in this area in agriculture, we have also put forward our proposal to the Vanuatu government for the direct importation of beef to Solomon Islands. The Ministry hopes that beef imports from Vanuatu will lessen our reliance on other international exporters. Moreover, our governments can work together in assisting each other in developing our cattle industries."

After the 2000 crisis, the number of herds of cattle in the country plummeted to 3000 from 40,000 in the previous years. Such marked decline has brought the cattle industry in the Solomon Islands almost to its knees. Currently, most of the beef produced in the country are predominantly for local consumption, with farmers only sourcing orders from local abattoirs, parties and feasts.

But with the resumption of the industry, there is a high chance that Solomon Islands may once again be one of an important beef producer in the Pacific region.

"We have worked out much of what contributed to our failure during the pre-conflict years. It seems our biggest problem is our strategy. However, under the new National Cattle Project, we pursue our goals to get the small-holders develop into big industries. And one of the strategy to achieve this is to get into setting up processing plants of which we can derive more value for our beef, either through the domestic market or the international market", said Mr Kingmele.

About eight kilometers east of Honiara, a party of around 15 men were busy erecting wooden posts and stringing barbed wires around the precincts of a 220-hectare grassland. There were no cattle in the paddocks as yet, but visions of little hoofs stomping under the overgrown rain trees are starting to become a reality.

The group headed by Patrick Sakuman, a former employee of the Livestock Development Authority (LDA), is presently rebuilding the former government Tenavatu Farm and Research Center. The reconstruction is carried out in preparation for one of the most significant agricultural imports in the post-conflict years expected to arrive in the country in January next year - a herd of 700 cattle deemed most suitable for the country's climate.

After the successful signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Ghaobata and Tenavatu Landowners (GTL) last month, the farm, situated near Foxwood, is now undergoing its initial phase of reconstruction.

On Friday last week, a combined delegation from both the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) and Chiefs from GTL, made an assessment visit to the farm, now re-named the Tenavatu Quarantine and Breeding Farm, to observe the progress of the reconstruction since work started on September. The initial work currently undertaken includes the construction of fencing perimeters and a stockyard, clearing of paddocks which are densely covered with forests, and the clearing of the ground-breaking area in the old Tenavatu football field.

ENDS

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