Change in the business

Mohammed Mufid Khan at his stall in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

Former Kamil Muslim College student, Mufid Khan, who is on his sixth month selling local tobacco or suki at the Lautoka Municipal Market, says business has been good despite the odds.

Mr Mufid says his new suki business profited more than the vegetable farming — a business his family has been engaged in for the past 30 years.

He claims vegetable farming in Navosa has stiff competition compared with 10 years ago when there were fewer farmers. His family usually sold to vendors in Sigatoka.

On top of this, unpredictable change in the weather over the years has led to more losses faced being a vegetable farmer. Mr Mufid said his family had gone through many huge upsets because the only leased land they could acquire at Lebaleba, Navosa, was located in a flood-prone area.

“My father, Mohammed Mustak Khan, farms a variety of vegetables on two acres of land and sells to the market vendors in Sigatoka,” he says. “The agriculture sector is vulnerable to climate change, hence it becomes difficult to maintain cash crop farming.

Every year, floods or extreme dry weather conditions affect farming. The rivers and wells dry up — making vegetable farming an arduous task. “I speak through experience.

The vegetables my father plants cannot grow throughout the year. The immense heat kills seedlings at times,” he says. “My father’s farm is located in a flood prone area. Whenever it rains heavily, we always suffer extensive damage. We lose about $3000 worth each year.”

He said the land belonged to the Fiji Muslim League and they were unsure if the land lease would be renewed by the mataqali. The eldest in a family of four, Mr Mufid said the vegetable business was not as lucrative as selling suki.

After several years of failed attempts to regain what was once a profitable family business, Mr Mufid built his own home in Drasa, Lautoka, with the help of his father — working on a quarter acre land planting his own vegetables.

He said he stumbled upon the suki business in Drasa living with his paternal grandmother. After his vegetable farm in Drasa failed to meet expectations, as he incurred losses, he tapped into the suki business. “I started selling suki, no one in my family was selling suki. I buy a bale of suki, weighing 10kg for $800 “I buy the suki from my uncle in Bemana. Supply is not a worry.

The bales of suki can be kept for up to six months and it does not lose its price value. It is a profitable business. I have two tables here and pay $87.50 in stall fees. I sell two types of suki, one for chewing and another for smoking,” he said.

Mr Mufid said COVID-19 did impact his suki business. “I used to sell two bales in a month now that has reduced to half.” However, despite his struggles Mr Mufid says he remains hopeful and is working towards buying his own farm to plant tobacco. “Suki is the new business I’m hoping to explore more and pray things get better,” he said.

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