Fiji is primarily an agrarian society with agriculture, forestry and fishing also important sources of revenue. Including subsistence farming, agriculture is accounts for about half of total employment. A variety of crops are produced including sugarcane, coconut oil, (historically Fiji’s second most important agricultural export behind sugar), cocoa, ginger and of late, kava.
Sugar is the mainstay of Fiji’s agriculture and employs about one quarter of Fiji’s labor force. Most of the sugarcane growing is done by about 20,000 small landholders, about 75% Indian, that occupy native lands under 30-year lease arrangements. These leases, which begian to expire in 1997, are the source of much political controversy as the expiration dates of vast tracts of leased land looms closer.
The nub of the problem is this: Indians have traditionally leased land from Fijians to grow sugarcane. Farmers naturally demand long-term leases so they can plan the investment it takes to grow more cane. Fijians have been reluctant to renew longer-term control of cane lands to the Indians. Why? In Fiji land equals economic and political power. Power has traditionally rested with the indigenous Fijians and in a time of economic nationalism, the renewal of long term leases is an anathema to a certain part of the Fijian constituency.
Fiji’s tourism industry has grown over the last decade to become an important source of jobs and the major source of foreign exchange earnings since 1990, surpassing sugar as an export industry at that time. The coup has created a difficult business climate which negatively impacted tourist arrivals and consequently, local employment. The EU has suspended all aid until the interim government takes steps toward new elections—which have yet to be scheduled. According to the CIA website, “long-term problems include low investment, uncertain land ownership rights, and the government’s inability to manage its budget.”
The current population (2207) is 827,900. Growth has been tempered over the last decade by emigration resulting from political and economic turmoil following the coups of 2000 and 2006 . Minus emigration, Fiji’s population growth roughly mimics those of of neighboring South Pacific nations which range from 2 to 4% annually.
The indigenous Fijian population is estimated to be about 473,983 in 2007. On the two largest islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, native Fijians comprise the majority of the inhabitants. On the distant outer islands indigenous Fijians make up nearly 100% of the population.
The proportion of the Indo-Fijian population has declined from a pre-coup peak of 324,000 persons in 1981 to (311,591) in 2007. The Indian population had decreased gradually as a proportion of the total prior to the 1987 coups but dropped more precipitously after the latest political upheaval.
Two important observations about Fiji’s ethnic makeup are worth noting: Indians and Fijians rarely intermarry and as a rule have not culturally blended to a great degree. In most regards, they live in two separate worlds. Despite this, prior to the political problems of the late 1980s, they coexisted in relative harmony until recently. Unfortunately, tensions between the two groups intensified because of unresolved constitutional and long-term land lease issues.
A second characteristic is that unlike other Pacific economies, economic status in Fiji is not linked to ethnicity. Of the two groups, a larger proportion of Fijians live in a subsistence economy, but rich and poor exist among both populations.
Fiji became an independent nation on 10 October 1970, 96 years after cession to Britain. Its constitution, up to 1987, provided for a bicameral parliament modeled on the Westminster plan with a House of Representatives elected by popular vote and a Senate with appointed members. As the result of the 1987 coup, a new constitution that guarantees indigenous Fijian rule was promulgated in 1990 and implemented in 1992. The current constitution was approved in 1997.The last decade has been a convoluted series of coups, lackluster governance and frankly a great disappointment to the long suffering Fijian people. The economic impact of the latest coup reverberates through the economy today. The following timeline, courtesy of Wikipedia is illustrative of the problems: