Ratu Jone checks a string of oysters on his pearl farm in Savusavu
BANKING on the sea, the country's first indigenous pearl exporter has called on more indigenous farmers to join him in farming the highly sought after jewellery.
Ratu Jone Maivalili, who exported pearls to Japan for the first time last year, said landowners -- especially those living along the coast -- should start thinking outside the box of traditional crops.
"We are so used to dalo and yaqona that we feel safe in farming them," he said.
"That's why we are reluctant to try something new and challenging.
"There should be a movement now on exploring alternatives like pearl farming which can rival any other crop in terms of the return income."
Ratu Jone, a former pilot, took the leap into the unknown when he started farming oysters in 2001.
"I used to get my oysters from diving on the reefs and when I started I knew little about pearl farming," he said.
"But that was the best thing about it because I'm learning new things every day like building my own base at sea, implanting nuclei, identifying the quality of pearl and so forth.
"There was a lot of trial and error before the finished product eight years on."
Ratu Jone -- who farms within three bays Matuku, Urata and Mua Bay in Savusavu -- has almost 70,000 oysters and exported 3000 pearls to Japan last year.
"This is my bank in the sea," he said.
The 55-year-old farmer said financial assistance should be available if indigenous farmers are to be encouraged into pearl farming.
"I wouldn't have been able to make it this far without the financial assistance I received from the Northern Development Program this year," he said.
"The initial investment is high in terms of capital and technical support but the return is high so it is a good type of farming for coastal villagers because it would create employment."
Senior Fisheries Officer Cakaudrove Joji Vuakaca asked the provincial council to consider encouraging landowners into this type of farming as well as just fishing