The first Samoa Farmers Forum opened yesterday to a crowd of over 100 farmers and the surrounding community.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi opened the two-day event by emphasising the importance of strong partnerships between farmers and government, and between the private sector and the public sector.
Farming and fisheries account for just 10 per cent of the national gross domestic product, said the Prime Minister, yet it accounts for two thirds of the labour force and 90 per cent of Samoa’s exports.
To succeed in a sophisticated and competitive environment, Samoa’s farming industry needs to upskill, which can be a challenge for smallholder farmers.
The inaugural Farmers Forum provides a space for farmers to exchange information and learn from each other’s experiences and challenges, and to build a network between farmers.
Chairperson of the Samoa Farmers Association, Afamasaga Tole’afoa said farmers need to be united to achieve sustainable, economic improvements in their farming.
By starting a network of Samoan farmers and their organisations, Afamasaga hopes this can raise the profile and status of farmers, and of farming in Samoa.
Afamasaga said for many farmers, it was probably the first time they have become aware of local and global network of farmers they can participate in and reach out to.
“Out in the villages there is a lack of understanding of this bigger picture,” he said.
“It can only get better, particularly with these initiatives by government and donors to include farmer organisations in these new projects to build capacity of farmer organisations.
“It’s timely for us to organise ourselves and to tap into that support,” Afamasaga said.
The forum was supported by the Pacific Island Farmers Organisation Network (P.I.F.O.N) who provide resources and advocacy to its members.
Afamasaga is also the chairperson of P.I.F.O.N. He said the opportunity for the sector to write a communique of issues and goals as a group was important.
“The support by government is very impressive. For the prime minister to make time to come here says something about the view of government to support what the farmers are trying to do on their own.”
For farmers to be able to access the support available from government and donor agencies is essential,” he said.
In particular P.I.F.O.N supports farmers present their issues to the policy makers, and budget writers.
PIFON manager Kyle Stice said bringing issues up from the grassroots and down from government is a challenge for farmers who are spread out across the country.
“It’s not about setting up another organisation, it’s about a platform, or forum for farmers.
“Our experience in other countries shows it allows associations to find common ground and common issues, and then the challenge is, well what do you do about it?”
The first day of the Farmers Forum saw presentations from sector representatives on koko, sheep, turmeric and ginger and more, as well as from the various agriculture development partners.
To close, the participants discussed the issues impacting their sector in groups, which would be the foundation for the forum communique.