Friday, 22 May 2009 2:23 AM

Truth about Cattle Rehabilitation in SI

I would be grateful if you could publish this article.

I read with interest the article regarding purchase of four calves by MP Fred Fono; for the beginning of cattle rehabilitation in his constituency, with further interest to purchase more stock locally.

What really surprises me is that little or no mention of progression in relation to the 10 Million Dollar Cattle Rehabilitation Project has been made known to the public, nor has there been any clear explanation on future plans/directions or a timeframe on purchase of stock from Australia, other than the Ministry of Finance announcing that the funds are still in Government care, through a million or so short.

Mr. Fono is here using his RCDF for Cattle Rehabilitation, shouldn't he be accessing the Cattle Rehabilitation Funds, this picture doesn't make sense? What are the links between this venture and the Cattle Rehabilitation Programme? If any?

Is this picture leading to the questions so many Solomon Islanders what to know? When will we have cattle to breed and farm? When will beef be cheap again in Solomon Islands? What is the Ministry of Agriculture doing? And so many other questions related to this issue.

Let me take the public back to where the Cattle Rehabilitation Programme started; in the hope that this issue will not die a lack of public interest and Government must serve to respond and clarify its position. As well as the need for ROC to show concern against its interests and lack of penalizing S.I. Government for clear breach of trust in its good will to the people of Solomon Islands, unless this is another classic example of "Cheque Book Diplomacy"

Firstly this programme of cattle rehabilitation had come about in the 90's, where cattle were being bred using artificial insemination brought in from Australia. The herd was kept at Tenavatu Farm and were being bred to further replenish or improve existing stock in the Country, given the small genetic pool of breeds and in-breeding occurring with current stock, a definite" No-No" in terms of cattle breeding. Sadly, all this stock and the breeding programme stopped during the ethnic tension, most cattle from this programme were killed by militants at the Tenavatu Farm. Some cattle were sent to Gizo and Malaita, sadly these stocks were not managed and in-breeding occurred.

I stand to be corrected on the following story and narration of events precisely; however, I have researched and have anecdotal evidence to support the following scenario that unfolded.

The current cattle rehabilitation programme, was initiated post RAMSI arrival, where Government tasked a team, mostly Agriculture Officers and Agriculture related Professionals, to assess possible sites for initial cattle holding/breeding, purchase of stock from abroad and development of located sites to accommodate stock once in-country.

From the team's findings it was identified that Guadalcanal and Malaita were ideal for the initial roll out of programme, given the obvious reasons such as; existing cattle farm land/pasture with past proven records of cattle doing well; and accessibility to supply further farmers across Solomon Islands given these locations easier access to transportation and other logistics.

The second task of team was to identify which country our breeding stock would come from? The team was sent to Vanuatu in the hope that breeding stock would be sourced, for financial reasons; this would be the Solomon Islands best and cheapest option. However, under Vanuatu's Agriculture law, export of live cattle for breeding was not allowed so as to protect their market interests and continue to enjoy as one of the most successful suppliers of organic beef in the World. It is important to note that export of live cattle for consumption and cattle for breeding carry different applications and is governed by existing international laws, country specific regulations and agricultural laws; and agreements prior to purchase of cattle, hence, Vanuatu's interests are protected.

The team then went to Australia; this proved a successful option and various farmers and different breeds of cattle were assessed in Australia, together with identification of required quarantine formalities to meet both the Australia regulations but most importantly our Solomon Islands quarantine requirements. It is important to point out here that Australia through advanced in the Agriculture sector, perhaps a leader at the world stage, unlike Vanuatu; does have a lot of problems with cattle disease. Proudly this is an area that Solomon Islands is still free of, we have no major or threatening cattle disease, hence, our advantage to be on equal par as Vanuatu in supply of organic beef is possible.

It was through this successful assessment and field trip in Australia that the 10 Million Cattle Rehabilitation Project Budget was drawn and subsequently drew interest and financial support from ROC. This was for purchase of; breeding stock, quarantine holding, veterinary medication and work on stock, transportation; and development of holding/breeding facilities on Guadalcanal and Malaita.

Following this; the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, with support from ROC, quickly started negotiations with Guadalcanal land Owners for use of the Tenavatu Farm land and other small holder sites. It is important to note here that Government still holds title to the Tenavatu land, however as a result of the civil unrest, Guadalcanal land Owners have reclaimed this land. So Government chose not to poke this sensitivity issue and had the rest of the Solomon Islands at heart in terms of cattle production and food security needs. The Government firmly decided that Guadalcanal Land Owners would come into partnership and have share to the Cattle, basically owning stock and farm with the good intentions of supply to other farmers across the country under Government terms. However, through agreement was reached and stock yards were built (not only at the Tenavutu site but other locations as well) Guadalcanal farmers from Tenavatu area again decided to hit the Government for more money, by claiming that Government should pay lease to the land, this was the first major hold up in regards to the proposed cattle rehabilitation project.

Mean while, farmers in Malaita through support from ROC had already started to repair fences and holding yards, I witnessed this first hand in Auki, whilst there for work, when farmers, Agriculture Officers and ROC Personnel were discussing and issuing funds and fencing materials. I also had the opportunity to visit these farms with the interest of cattle farming as a future business venture given that I was neither from Guadalcanal or Malaita. Most if not all farms are within the constituency of MP Fred Fono. Hence, I am of the view that it is through the frustration of these farmers in the delays that MP Fono has decided to start the purchase of cattle locally to stick to his promise of cattle rehabilitation and minimise any repercussions.

Still, the Guadalcanal Land Owners issue was unresolved as the 10 Million Dollars had not included this part as being of the programme.

Another major event quickly unfolded from the Australia side, Government Budget (the 10 Million) had only catered for 700 impregnated cows (already pregnant) to be shipped across; however the ship required for this task needed a minimum of 1200 head of cattle in order to ship consignment. Government could have asked interested private farmers in Solomon Islands to purchase the additional numbers, issue a public statement around this issue and seek opinions for alternatives; or seek ROC or the Australian Governments assistance; to further purchase quota for shipment eligibility.

However, S.I. Government chose to put a hold on further progress.

Information sourced indicates that at this stage (2006/2008), the 10 Million Dollars was used by Government, ROC further gave another 10 Million to keep the peace and stop any further public scrutiny of the project, which was occurring at the time, from both the general public and particularly the frustrated Malaitan and Guadalcanal Farmers.

This is how the issue stands until today, with the recent arguments and questioning of the 10 Million Dollar allocation, I'm sure the funds mentioned by finance as still in Government care, is another new round of funds, issued by ROC as Government would have used the previous funds, everyone knows this is the nature of our Government and the flexibility of ROC funding arrangements, time and time again this has happened, what's new?

Will this project ever eventuate?

Will Government purchase the additional stock quota needed? Will ROC jump in to rescue the programme it supported and money it gave?

Will the Australia Government help? Or only provide technical advice as is their current dream plan and practice for sustainable and long term change & Development in Solomon Islands?

What about the EU funding just released? Or is it also technical advice allocated?

Will Guadalcanal Farmers from Tenavatu area agree to terms in initial agreement?

Will Malaitan farmers ease on pressuring Government? I hope not?

Is artificial insemination a cheaper and available option? There is still small scale farms with cattle scattered across Solomon Islands.

Will the Minister for Agriculture and his Officers say something?

Basically, will the Cattle Rehabilitation Project ever come to be?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Jay Brown and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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