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Historical Review Of Pineapple Cultivation In Fiji

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The present day agriculture landscape in Fiji has been shaped from the events of the colonial past. Fiji is a small island economy in the middle of the Pacific and most of its current agricultural industries have been influenced by the past British colonization. The sugarcane, citrus, pineapples, banana, coffee, rice, tobacco and cocoa has all been introduced in the country during the colonization period and was once thriving as industry and major source of funds for economic development of the country. While the major focus of this thesis is to better understand today’s pineapple industry through the study from production and postharvest perspective, it is also important to have greater knowledge through the study of the history of agriculture and the past experiences of the pineapple industry in Fiji. Such study has never been undertaken before therefore the knowledge gained will assist in better informed decisions for the advancement of the pineapple industry in Fiji.

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History of Agriculture in Fiji

Before the Period of European Contact

History of agriculture in Fiji dates back pre-colonial period. Swidden cultivation or slash and burn agriculture started in Fiji in post Lapita era (Roos et al., 2016). The Lapita people who were the first settlers of Fiji were coastal dwellers and sourced their food from marine life (Nunn, 2007). It is during the post Lapita period that surrounding hillslopes around habitats were burned and cleared for swidden cultivation (Roos et al., 2016). Shifting cultivation was a common practice for traditional Fijian society. They were structured with clear allocation of roles. “A family entrusted to be specialists in farming would have understood better than any other family the signs of the season on land, the proper crop for each area, the optimum time to plant, the right crop combinations, the way to treat soils and so on” (Siwatibau, 1984).

This illustrates that traditional indigenous Fijian society or the itaukei’s had good knowledge of food production through cultivation of land. Crops such as yam (Dioscorea spp), taro (species of Xanthosoma, Colocasia and Alocasia), kumala (Ipomea batatas), coconut, fruit trees such as malay apple; “Kavika” (Syzygium malaccense) and Fijian logan; “Dawa” (Pometia pinnata) and varieties of leafy vegetables (Abelmoschus manihot and Polyscias spp.) were cultivated in scattered gardens due to soil preferences and were looked after by different extended families (Ward, 1964; Siwatibau, 1964).

Settlements were often established around the cultivation area. When the cultivable land around their settlements were infertile, they moved to new areas for cultivation (Ross et al., 2016) and this movement often caused tribal wars to settle conflicting claims of the land (Siwatibau, 1984). The basic tool used for planting was a stick sharpened at the end to make holes in the ground to plant crops such as yam and taro. The gardens often contained multiple ranges of crops with several varieties. The traditional Fijian swidden subsistence farming system was ecologically robust (Ward, 1964).

It provided food security to the people while also ensuring protection of soil and the environment. The shape of agriculture in Fiji started to change after its people came into contact with the Europeans. Fijians started trading foodstuff with European traders visiting Fiji to obtain sandalwood from the west of Vanua Levu in 1804 and by 1840; traders were sending cargoes of yam, pig and coconut oil to California and Australia (Ward, 1964). Fijians then already had the techniques for extraction of coconut oil and preserving food through fermentation.

Pre Colonial Period

Fiji was for a number of years hidden from the outside world until it was first sighted by Abel Janszoon Tasman on 6th of February, 1643 and after 131 years by Captain Cook on the 2nd of July 1774 (Imthurn. S and Wharton. L. C., 2016; Lal, 2015). Latter Captain Bligh after the munity on the Bounty sails through Fiji and revisits the islands in 1792 (Lal, 2015). Even though Europeans started visiting Fiji for trade in sandalwood and beche-de-mer from 1804 (Ward, 1964; Lal, 2015), it was not until 1840 that the first European settlement was established in Levuka on the island of Ovalau (Lal, 2015).

During the celebrations of American independence on the island of Nukulau in the year 1849, the house of American representative; John B. Williams was accidently burned down for which he claimed from Cakabou, the self-proclaimed king of Fiji $5,000 which increased a decade latter to $45,000. This event was later to bring new dimension to Fiji’s history. The inability of Cakabou to pay the Americans resulted in him ceding the country to Britain in 1874 and thus commenced the period of colonization in Fiji’s history.

The Europeans mostly from Australia, New Zealand, America and Europe rushed to Fiji to buy land from 1860 to 1870 (Ward, 2002) and engage in copra and cotton plantations (Lal, 2015). Ward reported in 2002 that in his report on the proposed cession of Fiji to Great Britain, W.J. Smythe noted that Cotton was introduce in Fiji in 1830 and after trials, Fijians were encouraged to grow cotton in 1859; which was reported by Everlyn Storkes in the New Zealand Journal of History in 1968. Cotton contributed over 80% of all exports from Fiji in 1867 (Ward, 2002). The cotton boom was short lived and by 1874 farms was left ideal due to falling prices and the uncertainty of the land tenure after the cession of Fiji to Britain in the same year.

References:

  1. Nunn.D.P., 2007. Space and Place in an Ocean of Islands: Thoughts on the Attitudes of the Lapita People Towards Islands and their Colonizations. South Pacific Studies. Vol 27. No. 2. …
  2. Lal, B.V., 2015. Historical Dictionary of Fiji. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  3. Roos, C.I., Field, J.S., Dudgeon, J.V., 2016. Anthropogenic Burning, Agricultural Intensification, and Landscape Transformation in Post-Lapita Fiji. Journal of Ethnobiology 36, 535-553.
  4. Ward, R.G., 2002. Land use on Mago, Fiji: 1865-1882. J Pac Hist 37, 103-108.
  5. Siwatibau.S., 1984. Traditional Environmental Practice in the South Pacific: A case Study of Fiji. Royal Sweddish Academy of Science. Vol 13. No. 5/6, PP 365-368.
  6. Ward. G.R (1964) Cash Cropping and the Fijian Village. The Royal Geographical Society. Vol 130 No. 4, PP 484-500.

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