Thinking local for the tough times

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The world is teetering on the brink of a health and food crisis. 

And although we have plenty of food in Samoa at the moment, that is unlikely to always be the case. The worry is that in countries near and far, there are real concerns about food production. And we are not immune.

You see, whereas mankind’s negligence has diminished the natural resources on the soil and in the ocean, greed on the part of certain powerful countries and corporate bodies will ensure that when push comes to shove, the smallest countries are bound to be the first victims in this madness.

Indeed, as a small nation isolated from the rest of the world we will be among the first countries to suffer. We already know this because it’s happening in other fronts such as the impact of climate change.

Which is why it’s imperative that we must prioritise local solutions and prepare for the worst. Sure there are global solutions too that are being talked up but the best solutions are the ones that should come from here because we know ourselves, our environment, what works and what doesn’t. We say this because if we fail to prepare, our people will be caught off guard and they will suffer as a result.

There is no denying the fact that when it comes to the cost of food and basic living items, a trip to the supermarket is a sad experience. A hundred tala certainly doesn’t get you far. And that’s for people who have a hundred tala. Many of our working population don’t even make a hundred tala at the end of the working week – especially when you take away all the taxes and loan repayments. 

It’s a tough life but challenges present us with an opportunity. It is perhaps time for us to take stock of where we are with the idea of seriously encouraging our people to plant food wherever they can. In a country where we are blessed with such fertile soil where everything we put in the ground grows, it’s probably our only response.

Before we get to that though, let’s take a quick journey to the past. Many years ago, agriculture was the backbone of this country’s economy. We’re talking about talo, coconuts, koko Samoa and a few other crops.

It was a great time, a time when families in the villages in Upolu and Savai’i were able to set up shops, buy buses from working the land. Yes that was possible; the days of the taga koko and taga popo.

Those days, however, have become nothing but a distant memory.

While the vicious cyclones of the early 1990s and the talo blight that followed contributed much to the decline of the agriculture industry, the government’s negligence in developing the sector has not helped.

With little exports, this country has become so dependent on aid, remittances and hand- outs, we might as well forget about being politically independent.

We’ve known for some time now that we need to revive our agriculture industry. Efforts towards that end are now being manifested in the government’s talomua programme among other developments. The construction of ala galue, or roads leading to plantations, has also been cited by the government as another way to promote farming.

But many farmers say this is not enough. They need incentives. They need subsidies on the prices of essential things such as fertilizer, seeds, seedlings, farming equipment, etc, which most cannot afford.

Perhaps farmers – as well as all of us – should change our focus. Instead of looking at the Government about what it should do, what about thinking ahead for our families and ourselves?

There is no guarantee that the cost of living will decrease again, any time soon.

Fortunately for us here in Samoa, there’s still hope – at least when it comes to food. Unlike many other developing and third world countries whose people are now going without, we have a lot of substitutes that we can turn to during times like this.

We can always count on talo, taamu, breadfruit, bananas, cassava, yams and other staples. Almost every Samoan family has some sort of vegetable patch, small plantation, or fruit tree that can provide some sort of sustenance when the going gets tough.

Once upon a time, most families had fagaga moa (free range chicken) and their own pa pua’a (pig farms). These are the best meat because they are local and they are not processed meat.

When it comes to drinks, there’s always the laumoli, or lemon tree leaves, or Samoan cocoa to resort to when we can no longer afford the cost of coffee, tea, milo and cocoa. How can we forget our niu?

Health officials have long lauded both the health and economic benefits of turning to our own food, especially the readily available vegetables and fruits such as papayas, mangoes, vi, guava, oranges and the like.

Last Saturday, a letter from Callum Jones hit it right on the button. Published under the headline “A bunch of lies,” Mr. Jones made some very interesting observations. 

He wrote: “So there is a Samoan Obesity Gene? I call that BS. Google old Samoan Photo and find me one obese Samoan.

“The problem is that the moa palagi is deemed unfit for human consumption. Check the box; see the ‘approved for export’ stamp. That means it HAS to be exported and cannot be sold in the U.S.A.

The problem is the working culture, where any Principal Officer or A.C.E.O work 10-15hr days. There are many problems, but genes are not one of them.

“The people promoting the idea that genes determine your health or your early death want you to think that you are not in control and therefore have to rely more on the system to help you.

 “They want you to need more of the drugs they are selling, to sedate you to the slave based system and continue to sell their food they can’t sell anywhere else.

“Take back control. Eat local, Eat Fresh, Eat Colourful. And running around outside or in the gym wouldn’t hurt.”

We couldn’t agree more. Now, is a good time to heed those health messages, not only for our good health, but maybe because in most instances, particularly in the near future, we may not have much of a choice. It may be the only things that we have, that we can afford. Have a healthy Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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