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Cane and commitment: gender and familial relations on smallholder sugar cane farms in Fiji

Agriculture Subsistence farming Work environment Sugar Fiji
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This thesis examines the socio-economy of smallholder sugar cane farms in Fiji with particular attention to the participation and experiences of women. There is also consideration of the involvement of other household members, especially children in the farm economy.

Questions concerning the study are; how are smallholder cane farms operated in terms of allocation of labour and resources? What is the relationship between paid and unpaid work on the farm? What are the notions of family and work that orientate the farm economy and how is this articulated to the production of sugar cane in Fiji?

The study also sought to examine how issues concerning the sugar industry at national and global levels played out in a localised context, including the trends towards trade liberalisation resulting in the demise of preferential trading agreements.

The thesis explores these questions from inside the farm through ethnographic research undertaken with twenty farming households during 1996 and 1997. The study examines intra and inter-household relations within smallholdings and is primarily a qualitative account that contextualises the experiences of respondents with historical, socio-economic and comparative literature on Fiji and linkages with the sugar industry at local, national and global levels. The field site was situated on the island of Vanua Levu in the northern region of Fiji. The households in the study comprised both Fijian and Fiji Indian respondents who lived on smallholdings and relied primarily on selling sugar cane for their cash income. The study focuses on the way gender relations intersect with generational relations, denoting age and kinship, in orientating socio-economic processes within the farm.

I conclude that smallholder households are internally differentiated by gender and generation in allocation and control over production and resources. Constructions of seniority which have become embedded in cultural 'traditions' and institutions generally favours older male members of the household which is exemplified by their predominance as household heads and legal title holders to land leases and cane contracts. Familial and household relations are maintained through the process of marriage which was found to be the linchpin between paid and unpaid work on these smallholder farms. I argue that the unpaid work of women and children is integral to the production of cane, by contributing to the cane cultivation process and by performing work that allows other members of the household to participate in cane production. The thesis therefore aims to deconstruct perceptions of separation in production processes of remunerated and unremunerated labour that are evident in sugar industry discourses and aspects of economic analysis from the Fiji government.

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