The importance of weather in a watermelon farmer’s life

Illustration by Lauren Ibañez

By Akansha Narayan

Vinesh Prasad is a watermelon farmer in Tailevu, the largest province in Fiji. His father was a fisherman and he grew up around the ocean, fish and the boats in Nukuloa, Ba. Even though he knew about fishing, he did not want to do that as a source of income for his entire life because he thinks that there is no future in farming.

Listen to Vinesh Prasad’s story

In his early twenties, he started working as a laborer on a farm and that is how he was exposed to the skills and techniques of farming which later on motivated him to have his own farm.

“We have seen very bad days and we have been through poverty. I have never seen a fisherman who is rich. The man who employed me on his farm in my younger days said that you will not always work here and that you should learn and start doing something of your own.”

Vinesh Prasad

Left: Vinesh Prasad sits and enjoys a basin of kava at his home in the Nasoni settlements, Tailevu on a Sunday afternoon. He is a farmer and has been in the agriculture industry for almost 30 years now. Photo by Akansha Narayan  

Watermelons are loaded on Vinesh Prasad’s truck for wholesale at the Suva, Lautoka and Nadi markets. This photo was taken two to three years ago and the crop production keeps fluctuating. There is also a reduction in comparison to the past. These fluctuations in the crop production are due to the changing weather patterns and its effects, including seasonal rain, soil fertility, land spacing and natural disasters. Photo by Vinay Prasad

He owns an eight acres of land now where he plants watermelons, pineapples and a wide variety of vegetables. He prefers planting vegetables over watermelon because watermelons do not guarantee a definite result after plant and it also takes time to harvest, therefore it is much easier to earn money through the sale of other vegetables.

His rough hands and cracked heels are the outcome of his 30 years of experience in farming where he has become so confident and adapted to the work that he does that he can now even do that with estimated measurements.

“See….. this is how we use our legs and feet to measure the marks on the land,” he said. “This is 30 years of farming experience. We take the poultry manure in a bucket and that is in our hands and this is 1….2…3….how you measure and put the manure in the soil and in the right marks.”

Vinesh Prasad plows his farm and prepares the land for planting watermelons. He needs hot weather and soil fertility in order for the watermelons to gain its sweetness. Photo courtesy of Swasti Prasad

He also has his own ways of predicting the weather and deciding finalizing the area where a crop should be planted.

“If it is hot and dry weather then plant on flat land and if it is the rainy season then plant in the slope or hillside. If it is hurricane season then use the hillside and if the weather is good then flat land should be used.”

Weather is an important factor in Vinesh’s life because weather change dictates the time and a particular type of crops to be planted. He faces the issue of heavy rain, soil erosion and soil fertility.

“Whoever a farmer is and no matter how talented he is, he cannot plant and harvest one particular type of crop every year every season.” 

Through his observations, he has noted that “We have to use a lot of fertilizer now. Everything used to grow fresh and healthy before but that is not the same now. There was so much ploughing and harrowing back in the days.” 

A piece of watermelon offered to the reporter from Vinesh Prasad’s farm. Photo by Akansha Narayan

Vinesh also talks about the effect of tropical cyclones and how it affects the production yield. “Suppose the cyclone hits the Nadi side then our crops won’t be destroyed and if it hits here then I will not be left with anything at all so we cannot be sure about that.” This in turn affects the price of the fruits and vegetables. “I sold the pineapples on Tuesday afternoon for $15/dozen and I had to sell it for $5 and $10.”

Whatever challenges stand against his way, Vinesh is an enthusiastic farmer and he has adapted well to the weather changes and other contributing factors and he is known as one of the most successful farmers in Tailevu, Fiji. Starting from scratch in 1993, he now owns a tractor and a truck that is used as a daily means of vegetable transportation to the market. Vinesh is an optimist and he simply believes in learning and making use of every opportunity that comes one’s way. 

“Everyone gets a chance to learn. It all depends on how you make use of that opportunity.”

Vinesh Prasad and one of his laborers sit down under the shade of a tree and relax after working hard at the farm. Photo courtesy of  Swasti Prasad
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By Akansha Narayan

Akansha Narayan is a final year student at the University of the South Pacific majoring in journalism and literature and language. She has worked as a radio jockey for the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and Communications Fiji Limited and aspires to be a journalist. She is passionate about writing more about women empowerment, mental health, gender equality, body shaming, gender based violence and the right to education. She is a strong believer in the importance of mental health and she believes that it is OK to not be OK all the time. She enjoys listening to music and writing blogs in her free time. She is very connected to herself and her emotions and she will forever be that girl who gets really excited when the sky is in pretty colors.

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