From Fiji Times Online (24 August 2004)

Pierre finds his vocation 

How many working people have had the privilege — and convenience — of cooking meals at their workplace? That may be a bit of a problem for people working in their offices.

Pierre Tomoniko of Tua'koi Village in Rotuma has the luxury of cooking wild chickens every day while at work on his farm under the scorching sun.

The tall lad said while working on his four hectare of dalo and cassava farm, he also places traps, consisting of fishing lines all over the farm.

"Once a chicken is caught, it's time to make lovo and so I pull out a dalo or two and that is lunch for the day," he laughed.

"I have lost count of the roasted wild chickens that I have eaten and there are so many of them all over the island.

"That is probably one of the reasons why I like to go to my farm every day."

However, Pierre has a host of other reasons for going to the farm, the major one being that the farm is his only source of income.

The 19-year-old farmer says work on the farm is always an adventure as there is so much to do and eat as well.

There are succulent watermelons, pineapples, oranges and the cool taste of bu (coconut juice from young nuts), all of which he can enjoy while working on his farm.

He admitted that while growing up, he always dreamed about being the best mechanical engineer in Rotuma.

He also dreamed of attending a tertiary institute in Suva and setting up his own workshop on the island.

"Well those were my past dreams and I have realised life is really full of struggles," he said.

"The thought of leaving my family on the island and moving to a totally new environment would have been a drawback as I know I would be tempted to do other things.

"So rather than dwelling on things I cannot change, I decided after leaving school at Form Six level that I was going to farm the land and just see where it will take me to."

Pierre is now a full time farmer and the broad smile on his face belies the endurance and sacrifice he has made to cultivate his land.

The young farmer is now planting dalo, cassava, uvi, coconuts, watermelons and vegetables like bean and cabbage.

"I have no problem at all with the activities on the farm as I have my dad and the Agriculture officials to advise me on what to do most of the time," he said.

Agriculture Officer Aisea Atalifo said Pierre was like the rest of the young farmers on the island - very hardworking and determined.

"He is an example to those who are still in school and weighing their chances of making it into the big world," he said of Pierre.

"I believe he has chosen farming because in most Pacific islands, farming has always been a manly thing."

The innovative farmer works on his farm six days a week and has to walk for an hour to reach his farm.

"I wake up every morning to the cock's crow and gather my tools for the walk to my farm and this has been the trend every morning since 2001," said Pierre.

"I enjoy working on the farm as no one tells me what to do and when to finish and it's also a good time for me to think about my future because I have the whole piece of land to myself and there is just peace everywhere.

"Most of my friends in the village are farmers and they are always hard at work in their plantations during the day and we catch up on stories around the tanoa during the nights.

"The village elders have been proud because they know we can survive in years to come from the sweat of our brows."

Pierre hopes to sell his dalo to mainland Fiji and export to neighbouring Pacific island countries.

"But it would be a hundred times better if we could export our dalo overseas to countries like Australia and New Zealand because I am proud to say that Rotuma produces the best dalo in the Pacific," he beamed.

Many other farmers on the island share the same sentiments and problems.

The problem of finding a suitable market for their produce has been the topic of many discussions in the evening around the tanoa.

"It is the same problem for all farmers in Rotuma and it has been the talk of the island for quite some time now but we are not giving up on our farming because of these hiccups," Pierre said.

He says his current status as a farmer on the island would determine his future and he is willing to sacrifice everything to have a bright future.

"I want to build a house for myself and look for a wife but all that would depend on my income from farming which is quite difficult at the moment," he said.

Pierre hopes to be able to harvest 50 tonnes of dalo early next year.

He says his family have given him so much support that that is probably the only reason he is still keen on farming.

"My father is a teacher at the local village school and he helps in the farm when he has the time but other than that, I am always happy to be working alone on the farm," he said.

Every day he returns home with something from the farm like beans, cabbage or tomatoes.

"I love to see their faces light up when I return home from the farm with something that I have grown," he said.

"I feel that life on the island has much more meaning and I would not have it any other way.

"I often hear stories of Suva and all its restaurants and entertainment centres from my cousins who are attending school there but it does not intrigue me because I feel that home is here on the island and there is just so much to do here."

Pierre still sits on the white sandy beach of Tua'koi Village and dreams of making it big as dalo farmer and exporter.