Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

8 Agroforestry on smallholder sugar-cane farms in Fiji

Official neglect of traditional polycultural agroforestry systems can be seen as the opposite side of the coin of official emphasis on and encouragement of commercial monocropping, commercial production of livestock, and industrial forestry. And yet, as surveys of smallholder sugar-cane farms in Fiji demonstrate, small-scale commercial operations can maintain a diversity of useful trees in a landscape primarily dedicated to monocropping.

As a legacy of over a century of sugar-cane cultivation and emphasis on cash cropping for export, much of the drier western and northern sides of Fiji's two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, are landscapes of smallholder cane farms (typically 4 ha in size), farmed mostly by the descendants of indentured workers from India. Homes are usually located on farms so that settlement is dispersed in contrast to the nucleated villages of the indigenous Fijians.

Although production has long been strongly focused on sugar cane (and to a considerably weaker degree on annual subsistence crops such as rice, pulses, maize, and a variety of vegetables), Indian farmers have traditionally planted or encouraged a wide variety of trees around their houses, as well as on grazing lands, river banks, and along roads and boundaries. Unfortunately, because of high world sugar market prices and a deliberate policy of the Fiji Government to increase sugar-cane production (Fiji's number one source of foreign exchange) in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, farmers extended their cane planting onto grazing lands, to the edges of rivers and drainage ditches, secondary forest stands, and areas formerly reserved for rice and other crops. The process resulted in widespread agro deforestation and resultant overexploitation of existing firewood and timber reserves and grazing land, thus tightening the causal circle of agrodeforestation, overgrazing, and plundering of scarce fuel-wood resources.

Ali's (1986) in-depth study of 26 smallholder sugar-cane farms near Tavua in northern Viti Levu showed that in the study area of 146.3 ha the land under sugar cane increased from 78.7 ha (54 per cent) in the early 1970s to 107.6 ha (74 per cent) in 1982. Associated with, and facilitating, the increase in sugar-cane monoculture were: uncontrolled felling of trees, often with bulldozers, on grazing lands, and along farm edges and river courses, to make room for more sugar cane; a decline in the cultivation of rice and vegetables on separate plots and as intercrops with sugar cane; and a decline in livestock husbandry.

Whereas in 1971, all 26 households planted vegetables and spices on separate plots, or as intercrops with sugar cane, away from the home site, by 1982, only 17 farmers (65 per cent) planted vegetables (3 on separate plots, 5 as intercrops with cane, and 9 with both). In the past, most farmers had set aside pieces of land for vegetable gardens, normally on the alluvial soils along river flood plains and near wells, but extension of sugar-cane plantings into these areas forced most farmers to move their vegetable plots to their home allotments (24 of the 26 farmers had allotments for a house on raised ground at a distance from their farm land).

The loss of the trees scattered in the landscape meant a loss of ornamentation, timber, shade for livestock, fruit, edible leaves, living fences, green manure, wood for handicrafts, food for livestock, medicines, and fuel. The ecological stability of the sugar-cane landscapes was also lessened as the trees had served to enrich soil, to control erosion, and as wind-breaks. The only beneficial effect was that, in the face of increasing agrodeforestation and pressure on remaining tree resources, farmers were forced and, in some cases, encouraged to increase tree planting around their home compounds. A survey of trees on sugar-cane farms throughout Viti Levu, Fiji, in 1985 provided an inventory of several score of tree species protected or cultivated around residences, the most common being coconut, mango, papaya, the drumstick, or horseradish, tree (Moringa oleifera), curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), Citrus spp., tamarind, monkey-pod (Samanea saman), soursop, and Albizia lebbeck (table 9).

As pressure increases for monocultural crop production, and as large tracts of rural land become increasingly scarce or the population of the rural landless increases, the relative importance of rural home gardens in the provision of food, culturally useful products, and ecological benefits will increase. Greater official recognition of, and support for, rural home-garden agroforestry alongside monocultural agriculture could help to stem the processes of rural agrodeforestation.

Table 9 Names and relative importance of tree species found on sugar-cane farms, western Viti Levu, Fiji, between Sigatoka and Tavua, 1985-1986. (Under "local names," I = Indian, F = Fijian; under "importance," 5 = found on 75-100% of farms, 4 = 50-74%, 3 = 25-49%, 2 = 10-24%, and 1 = <10%)

Scientific name Common names Local names Importance
Acacia farnesiana Ellington's curse ban baburi (I); vaivaivakovotona (F) 3
Aegle marmelos bel apple bel, bael (I) 1
Albizia lebbeck siris tree, white monkey-pod, woman's tongue siris (I); vaivai (F) 3
Anacardaum Occidentale Cashew supardi (I) 1
Annona muricata Soursop salifa (I); seremaia (F) 4
Annona squamosa sweetsop, sugar apple sitafal (I); sermaia (F) 2
Artocarpus altilis Breadfruit uto (I and F) 3
Artocarpus heterophyllus Jakfruit katthar (I) 2
Averrhoa carambola carambola kamrakh (I); wind Idia (F) 2
Azadirachta indica margosa tree nim, neem (I) 2
Bambusa vulgaris Bamboo baas (I); bitu ni vavalagi (F) 1
Bauhinia monandra pink butterfly tree, pink orchid tree   1
Bischofia javanica Java cedar koka, togotogo (F) 1
Brassaia actinophylla Queensland umbrella Tree   1
Carica papaya Pawpaw pipita (I); weleti, maoli (F) 5
Cassia fistula golden shower tree, Indian laburnum, pudding-pipe tree   2
Cassia glauca scrambled egg tree   1
Cassia grandis pink shower, horse cassia sirsa (I); vaivai (F) 3
Cassia javanica pink and white shower tree vaivai (F) 3
Casuarina equisetifolia Casuarina, ironwood jhau (I); nokonoko (F) 3
Ceiba pentandra Kapok rui (I); vauvau (F) 3
Chrysophyllum Cainito star apple   1
Citrus aurantiifolia lime nabbu kaghdi (I); laimi, mold laimi (F) 5
Citrus grandis pommelo; shaddock chakotra (I); moli kana (F) 1
Citrus hystrix rough lemon khatta nabbu (I); moli karokaro (F) 2
Citrus limon lemon khatta nabbu (I); moli karokaro (F) 2
Citrus reticulata mandarin narangi (I); mold madirini (F) 3
Citrus sinensis orange mitha nabbu (I); moli, moli Tahiti (F) 2
Citrus xx hybrid suncrest (hybrid) nabbu (I); moli karokaro (F) 1
Cocos nucifera coconut narial (I); niu (F) 5
Cordia dichotoma sebesten plum lasora, lasoda (I) 3
Delonix regia poinciana, flame tree sekoula (F) 2


dragon plum tarawau (F) 1
Erythrina variegata coral tree, dadap drala (F) 1
Eucalyptus citriodora lemon-scented gum   2
Eucalyptus deglupta gum tree   2
Eucalyptus sp. eucalyptus   1
Eugenia brasiliense Brazil cherry sinaili, oula, amla, aula (I) 1
Ficus benjamina Benjamin tree pakar (I); baka (F) 1
Ficus obliqua native banyan pakar (I); baka (F) 1
Gliricidia septum madre de cacao sirsa (I); ba ni cagi (F) 3
Hibiscus tiliaceus hibiscus tree vau (F) 1
Intsia bijuga ipil vesi (F) 1
Jatropha curcas physic nut bakrera (I); wiriwiri (F) 1
Leucaena leucocephala leucaena vaivai (F) 4
Mangifera indica mango aam (I); ma-to (F) 5
Manilkara achras sapodilla   1
Morinda citrifolia beach mulberry achi (I); kura (F) 2
Moringa oleifera horseradish tree, drumstick tree seijan, saijan (I) boro ni Idia (F) 5
Murraya koenigii curry leaf, Indian bay leaf tej patti (I) 5
Musa AAA diploid banana kera (I); jaina (F) 2
Musa AAB triploid lady finger banana liga ni marama (F) 3
Musa ABB triploid bluggoe, blue Java bata (F) 1
Pandanustectorius pandanus, screwpine balawa, vadra (F) 1
Peltophorum pterocarpum golden poinciana sirsa (I); vaivai (F) 1
Pinus caribaea Caribbean pine paint (F) 2
Pithecellobium dulce Madras thorn kukafalli, kataiya (I) 3
Plumeria obtusa frangipani, plumeria bna (F) 2
Plumeria rubra frangipani, plumeria bua (F) 3
Psidium guajava guava amrood (I); quwnwa (F) 3
Puncia granatum pomegranate anar (I) 2
Samanea saman pod rain tree, monkey- sirsa (I); vaivai (F) 5
Spathodea campanulata African tulip tree   1
Spondias dulcis Polynesian vi-apple, Polynesian plum amra (I); wi (F) 2
Syzygium cumini Jambolan jamun (I); kovika ni Idia 2
Tamarindus indica Tamarind imli (I); tamarind (F) 5
Thevetia peraviana yellow oleander kandel (I) 2
Ziziphus jujuba Chinese jujube ber (I) 2
Ziziphus mauritiana Indian jujube baher, bair (I) 1

Source: Field surveys by the authors, 1985-1986.

Contents - Previous - Next