Apolosa Navuni, 65, of Saru in Lautoka is opportunists who like the story of the camel and the Arab, give him an inch, he will take a mile.
Originally from Saolo in Bua, Vanua Levu, Apolosa is a retired chef cum vegetable farmer who was at one point in his life, just a simple village boy.
“I dropped out after form 3 because my parents could not afford my school fees as I was in a boarding school at Ratu Kadavulevu School. I lost all hope of getting a good job as I returned to the village where I stayed for the next 7 years,” the father of three said.
In 1970, Apolosi visited a cousin who part of the maintenance crew at the Castaway Island Resort in the Mamanuca Island group off the west coast of Viti Levu. This trip changed his life forever.
“I stayed with my cousin and looked after the house. I would cook and clean as there was no woman in the house. I began to ask around for a job as i wanted to work and earn some money. Hotel employment seemed an attractive option rather than going back to the village.”
In 1973, Apolosa found a job as a kitchen hand at the newly opened Plantation Island Resort. He worked his heart out eventually becoming a chef in 1991 at a time when most chefs in Fiji hotels were expatriates.
“I had to work very hard and attended a lot of trainings and workshops. I worked along many European chefs whom I learned a lot from.”
Since then, Apolosa has been employed by renowned resorts such as Castaway Island Resort, Beachcomber Resort, Raffles Gateway Hotel, Mokusiga Island Resort and even as the head chef at Air Terminal Services at the Nadi international airport.
In 2009, he retired from Plantation Island Resort and decided to start a greenhouse project for vegetable farming; something fell in love with at the resort where a lot of its vegetables are grown on the island.
“As a chef, I’m very thorough when it comes to food preparations and I always want the best and fresh produce. When it comes to vegetables and fruits, I’m very particular about them. So I was really very impressed with the quality of the produce on Plantation Island the simplicity of its set up. I made up my mind I was going to develop the same idea when I retired.”
After retiring, Apolosa was assisted by the ministry of agriculture with the supply of four green houses for his project. The project was a disaster as the soil wasn’t suitable for vegetable farming and the weather was too hot in Lautoka. He had secured a lease on a 3 acres farm land along the Saru back road.
“I decided that hydroponics was going to be the only solution as the supply water and a controlled environment would be ideal for producing vegetables such as lettuces and cabbages.”
“However, one of the reasons the project did not succeed was because I wasn’t working on it full time as I was recalled in 2010 to work again for Plantation Island Resort again until March 2013.”
Apolosa used this opportunity to set up his market with the resort so that when he resumes his project, he has a steady market to sell.
He approached the Fiji Development Bank Lautoka branch for a loan to start off his hydroponics project and he was offered $12,000. With this he purchased a hydroponics kit which is a fully equipped hydroponics set-up which can be easily dismantled and set up. The left over funds was used to purchase materials for building another three kits.
Apolosa plants green coral, red coral and course lettuces on his hydroponics kit whilst other vegetables such as capsicums, chillies, eggplant and tomatoes over one acre of land whilst two of his sons each farm on the other two acres.
He sells his produce to Plantation Island Resort whilst any leftover is sold in the Lautoka market. Lettuces are sold at $10 per kg, capsicums $12 per kg and tomatoes at $4 per kg. Chillies and eggplants are sold by the bundles at the market.
“The assistance by FDB has been really helpfully and especially the service provided with our farm being visited regularly ever since we started dealing with FDB. They assisted me from the initial application and guided me with everything I needed. They even assisted in the setting up of my company.”
Apolosa is determined to make a name for his business supplying major hotels with his produce. With his experience and high quality standards on food, he knows exactly what his customers desire.