Since the recent breakthrough in resuming banana exports to New Zealand, banana plantations are beginning to flourish again.
This year the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F) introduced two varieties of banana species from South Africa for the purposes of growing for export.
In collaboration with the newly formed Banana Growers Association, M.A.F. has taken steps to support and strengthen the banana industry during its nascent stages to meet the demands of a lucrative market in New Zealand.
Inspection visits by M.A.F. were conducted in Savai’i last week in a series of interventions to help support the banana growers who are farming the new varieties of bananas at this time.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Crops A.C.E.O. for M.A.F., Moafanua Tolo Iosefa said the lessons learnt since the 60’s and 70’s serves to inform the way forward in building up the banana industry from the ground up.
“Bananas is one of the commodities we used to export in the 60’s and 70’s but because of the outbreak of the leaf disease, it completely destroyed the banana industry and from that time on only a few people/farmers and S.T.E.C. tried to maintain the exports of banana but then later on because of the expense of maintaining the banana plantations, everything came to a halt. It’s very expensive to maintain a banana plantation up to the standard of export quality.”
Despite the initial challenges of growing and maintaining banana plantations for export, Moafanua says the economic benefits are worth the investment.
“Keep in mind that the banana market in New Zealand is quite large compared to taro because taro caters to just the Pacific people. If we manage to even get 5 percent of that then that is good bonus for us and that’s the whole idea of this.”
Moafanua tells the Samoa Observer while inspecting a banana plantation in Falealupo that there is a strong collective effort by the members of the Banana Growers Association to grow the banana industry to the export level again.
“This banana plantation is owned by Seumanutafa Ekerei, a Savaiian farmer member of the Banana association and looking at them, they are looking very healthy. This land is newly cleared and so the fertility of the soil is very good. Charlie Ah Liki has been one of the members who is leading the revival and he has more than 10 acres targeting the export market and he is pushing the association of banana farmers.”
There are several ways M.A.F. is supporting the banana growers in Samoa, one being to strengthen the banana association to reach independence in the future.
“We bring in the banana and we are giving it to the farmers for very cheap,” said Moafanua. “We give them plants for $1 each but that money is going back into the banana association account because the intention of the Minister is to develop the association so whatever is paid goes back into the organization so that they can support the association in the future. I think one of the major challenges they are facing is the cost of chemicals and also the equipment needed for the maintenance of the crops.”
In its early stages, the Government is working with farmers who are able to start and maintain banana growing for export. In the past, quotas for export crops were mostly filled in Upolu before looking to Savaii, however this time, the Ministry under the direction of Minister Lopao’o Natanielu, intends to support ways to ensure equal opportunity for both islands.
“I think that the intention of this ministry is to try and have equal distribution amongst those that afford it,” said Moafanua. “We have to carefully look at the ability of the farmer to maintain the costs of the chemicals needed to maintain the banana plantation, it’s quite huge, expensive. So anyone who can afford it we will support both islands.
“The current Minister of our Ministry is a Savaii and he is pushing forward for equal opportunity for farmers in Savaii and Upolu,” said Moafanua. “Because the next lot of banana shipments for banana farmers, we will split into half between Savaii and Upolu. Yesterday, we visited Vaaiata and its good that the prison departments are trying to make it on their own.”