From Fiji Times Online (28 May 2012)

Pio Samuela: My life in the slow lane

by Kuini Waqasavou*

RICH in its age-old traditions and culture, Rotumans around the globe share a common bond and that is their love and passion for their motherland.

At the recent celebration of Rotuma's independence, different people from all corners of the island came together to celebrate their freedom.

With feasting and merry-making, Rotuma islanders gathered at the Ahau pavilion to celebrate with government and non-government officials from Fiji their coming of age.

Entertainment was the order of the day as well as the annual agriculture show where farmers had the opportunity to showcase their harvest of yams, kumala, dalo, varieties of fruits and vegetables as well as handicrafts.

One farmer scooped the "Farmer of the Year" award for his outstanding achievement and hard work.

With excitement and triumph, he boldly walked up to the pavilion to receive his prize from chief guest and Minister for Primary Industries, Joketani Cokanasiga.

With his roots firmly embedded in the garden island of Taveuni, 58-year-old Pio Samuela is now living the simple life of a farmer with his maternal family links on the island paradise of Rotuma.

At the age of six, Pio left Taveuni with his mother and older siblings on their long journey to Rotuma.

"I still remember vividly the day that we left and after we parted ways with our father, we have never looked back," said an emotional Pio.

The family moved to Juju Village and started rebuilding their lives and connecting with their family members.

"It was a hard time for mum and us but as we grew up, we managed to learn all the tricks and trade of island living and have been improving ever since."

From his teens to adulthood, Pio was engaged on their family farm and even though starting his own family, he has a great sense of pride when it comes to working on the farm.

The clever farmer has been planting varieties of root crops, vegetables and fruit trees on his small farm as well as raising pigs.

"I have been working closely with the Department of Agriculture officials and have always been one that is particular about the finer details of farming," Pio said.

From land preparation to harvesting, Pio made sure he plays his cards right so that there is consistency in the quality of his produce.

"I also look after my pigs well and they are sold within the island especially during social gatherings.

"Rotuma is just a small island so crops, vegetables and woven mats are sold within the island or sometimes to our families living in Fiji or abroad."

Pio says with the abundance of natural resources, Rotumans have been living in their own paradise.

"We have nothing to worry about as we have food on the farms and food from the sea.

"The onus is on each and every one of us to play our roles well and see that our resources are used sufficiently as well as sustainably."

According to agricultural assistant (Rotuma) Akariva Naqo, food security is not an issue on the island as there is an abundance of food and marine resources for its inhabitants.

"We had been conducting trainings and awareness programmes for the islanders to ensure they plant more food," he said.

"We are also preparing them for the market that will open up soon in Tuvalu," Naqo explained.

"Farmers on the island are aware of the important roles they need to play as well as ensure that the future generations will continue to enjoy the natural resources as well as food that they are still enjoying today."

Pio says throughout the years, he has played his role well and hopes his fellowmen and women will follow suit.

"Farming is for everyone and even if we have a small piece of land in urban areas, we should plant vegetables because this ensures food security.

"We don't have to run to the market every time we need vegetables," he said with a smile on his face.

With his 10 children and 14 grandchildren living in parts of Australia, Canada and Fiji, Pio says he is now living life in the slow lane and enjoys spending time with his wife.

He works on his farms two hours every morning and another two hours in the afternoons.

"I love every minute that I spend on the farm because I get to appreciate nature as well as enjoy the fruits of my hard labour," Pio said.

One thing he would love to see is the return of unemployed youths to the island paradise.

"I hope that by winning the award, more youths will realise the potential that the island has and do not have to travel far and wide for employment opportunities.

"Not everyone can be a doctor, teacher or soldier because there is a need for more farmers.

"If there were no farmers, there would be no markets with fresh fruits, vegetables and root crops for our daily diet."

Pio hopes that as the months and years go by, more Rotuman youths will return to the island to take up farming and help develop their island nation for the future.

* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer with the Ministry of Primary Industries.