The temporary export ban imposed on the exports of fresh taro to American Samoa has been lifted.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mu’a, called a meeting with taro exporters and officials from Pacific Forum Line Shipping on Thursday to announce that taro exporting to American Samoa can resume as per normal. With one exception.
“We’ve been working in discussions with my Ministry and the Department of Agriculture in American Samoa and the taro ban that we imposed in February is now lifted,” Lopao’o told the Sunday Samoan.
“However from now on, we will be making sure that the taros are cleaned. All the fresh taros will be taken to Atele where they will be thoroughly inspected, repacked and issued a certificate of approval before being sent to the wharf.”
The news was welcomed especially by taro exporters who have been waiting expectantly on a positive outcome for their businesses to resume exporting to Samoa’s closest international market.
Taro farmer and exporter, Peter Tulaga Eliesa, was present at the meeting and said that it was good news particularly for the exporters.
“All the exporters were happy even though there is an extra cost for them to take their taros to Atele,” said Mr. Eliesa.
“During the ban, at least farmers could meet the demand of our local market but for exporters, it affects their business more.”
According to Mr. Eliesa, while the temporary ban on exports to Pago was difficult for farmers and exporters alike, it was necessary to make sure that all parties were treated fairly and equally.
“Pago want to control how we do things here but yet we are the ones supplying them, especially since the cyclone, there’s no taro and no bananas there."
“They want us to follow what they want, with their criteria, they want the farm to supply them not the exporter because they say they want to make sure that they can trace the environment the crops came from."
“Pago got a lot of farms there. I go every week to Pago and I can see a lot of people doing farms, they became concerned with the virus but the problem is not us, it’s them. They researched and found that the virus already existed there.”
In June 2017, The American Samoa Government (A.S.G.) banned imported taro from Samoa citing reasons regarding the safeguarding of the A.S.G. local taro industry from any taro virus diseases.
American Samoa Director of Agriculture, Filifa’atali Mike Fuiava said they were concerned by an unknown virus that broke out in Samoa affecting taro crops in Savaii and Upolu.
According to him, lifting the suspension would depend on test results of taro samples affected by the disease which were being sent to Germany.
In a letter dated February 23, 2018, the A.S.G. lifted the ban but with some restrictions imposed on Samoan exporters and farmers.
The conditions that came with the proposed lift included inspections by a group of American Samoan Quarantine who were required to inspect farms, verify the names of the farmers, locations of the farm, their mailing addresses, telephones and email addresses.
Lopao’o mentioned in the meeting that if they had agreed with the conditions of the Department of Agriculture in American Samoa, only the bigger farmers who could afford to export would benefit from those terms, leaving the smaller farmers and exporters out and at a disadvantage.
The Minister of M.A.F. encouraged the exporters and farmers at the meeting to lift their game up, especially with regards to packaging standards when exporting.
“Look into making your labels and packaging more professional. Recently we had a problem with a shipment to New Zealand concerning the packaging of sasalapa juice and faapapa being exported in an untidy fashion."
“Now everyone will need to meet the required standards of the packaging and no longer will shipments be accepted if they are in an untidy condition.”