Ambition and a strong will are all one ever needs to accomplish their goals and dreams.
This rings true for Manasa Rasalato of Narago in the province of Bua, who has ambitions to supply locally produced lamb to local markets in order to offset the trade deficit of importing mutton.
Though he began his own journey as a sugarcane farmer and had faced significant challenges when switching from cane to livestock farming, Mr. Rasalato has since experienced gradual success, the basis from which he has set his sights on providing a steady supply of mutton for local demands.
Even at the ripe old age of 64, Manasa’s steadfast belief in, and bond to his livestock farm is unwavering, as he has on numerous occasions rejected his own family’s appeal to shun all types of farming and migrate overseas to enjoy the fruits of his years of labour.
“Fiji imports millions of dollars-worth of lamb every year, my goal is to reduce that and contribute what I can to the economy by supplying locally produced lamb to local markets.
“I was a school drop-out, and from then I would help my father on our farm, as he was a cattle farmer, and I am thankful that from an early age, I learnt a lot from him about livestock farming,” he shared.
“I was a cane farmer for almost 12 years in Seaqaqa, and I had my children to help me in the cane fields,” Manasa added.
In time, his children moved onto further their education and he unfortunately failed to secure the services of labourers to assist in his sugarcane farm; “I then changed my mind because the cane farm was a big responsibility as it required a lot of manpower, and slowly the labour (workers) was becoming a problem as it was becoming difficult to find people who wanted to work on a cane farm,” he laments.
“I then searched for land to start livestock farming, because it is quite easy, as the only thing you have to do is to plant the grass for the animals and you don’t have to worry about adding manure or fertilizer to the paddock like we used to do on our cane farm, where the cost of production was high as compared to livestock farming,” said Mr. Rasalato.
He managed to secure 120 acres of land and dove headfirst towards his dream of operating and managing a commercial livestock farm in Narago, Bua.
With twelve sheep, 22 goats and just one breeder, Manasa began his mission, and in the span of 5 years, he has now accumulated a total of 372 goats, 210 sheep and 13 cattle, which make up the roll of his current stock on the ground.
He accredits his success and now formidable livestock farming prowess to the unending support of loved ones; “I came here with 2 of my kids on this farm to start off with me and we spent about 7 months in a tent because we didn’t have the house back then,” he remembers.
“We then bought some roofing iron and timber, to build a small makeshift house. Looking back, I can say that even my manure shed on our sugarcane farm in Seaqaqa was much, much better than the house we had,” he said.
“I slowly started to sell some of the livestock and then slowly extended my farm and built my house from the sale of the livestock, all with the support from my children,” he added.
Through his sacrifice and struggle, he has raised his children and put them through the best possible education he could afford, and his children have not forgotten their patriarchs’ commitment to them during their formative years.
“My children don’t want me to stay on and continue farming. They’ve constantly asked me to move abroad with them but I can’t, staying on the farm makes me feel good because I belong here, this is my life, I work and I sweat and live a free rewarding life. I can also contribute to the economy of our country from farming, rather than sitting down in another country and doing nothing,” he affirmed.
The support and assistance shown to him by the Ministry of Agriculture has not gone unnoticed as Mr Rasalato acknowledged the Ministry’s input has led to the calibre of livestock farming that he is today known for.
“I appreciate the hours spent here on my farm, the continuous visits, the support and effort shown by the Ministry of Agriculture in supporting me and guiding me to become what I am today,” he said.
“Invaluable knowledge was shared to me and the technical advice provided to me was telling, as without it, I doubt I couldn’t have gone any farther with my livestock farm. The Ministry also provided me with fencing materials and materials for the goat shed,” he added.
“I am particularly supportive of Government’s import substitution initiative, especially for livestock as we continue to import huge amounts of lamb annually, I will always try to do my part to lessen this import bill.
The grandfather and father of 5 has echoed a resounding word of advice, farmers especially youths are to make maximum use of their land.
“You will always struggle before you progress, so don’t just sit and say that I am struggling. My only advice to our young people in rural areas and in the villages, there is potential in the land, there is money in the land and if you can learn to appreciate it rather than choosing to remain idle, you will realize what it has to offer,” he encouraged.
He has set his sights on maintaining a steady supply of farm fresh affordable meat produce for local markets and looks capable of meeting these targets.
“The only thing I want to achieve in the future is to be a model farmer for the Northern Division. One of the vision and goal I wrote in my book and diary is that the product of this land, the meat, will be sold in all the supermarkets in Vanua Levu, around Fiji and also to be exported in the coming years,” he said.
“That’s my goal and I am going to achieve it, I will work for it until I cannot physically continue to do so, that’s when I will hand over the reins of my farm to my family,” he said with a smile.
He currently sells his stock at the farm gate and earns approximately $14,000- $15,000 annually as his ambition to extend his farm continues. He also employees 1 full time labourer on his farm and is also assisted by one of his sons.