Taro and Samoa go hand in hand. The crop grows anywhere and it is planted by just about everyone on the island.
However, maintaining a taro plantation is not always the kind of work an individual can do alone especially when you are looking at the commercial side of things.
Amituanai Berger Nu’usa and Tusanilefaiaao Samotu at the National Agriculture show know very well the challenges faced by farmers planting taro and the kind of labour required.
From planting taro for the past twenty years the couple from Savaia Lefaga decided to switch from taro to planting sweet potatoes.
Tusani said the change is quite simple and logical for her.
“The labour is less, cheaper to maintain and better money,” said the woman farmer. “Another thing why I chose sweet potato is because you only wait for 4 – 5 months for it to harvest whereas taro it’s a long period of 9 months before you can start selling them.
“When I had my plantation I needed a lot of manpower of more than ten other workers to maintain about 50 acres of taro which is quite costly. Now that I’ve changed to sweet potato I need about three people to help out to maintain and weed the grass.”
Unlike taro, the farmer said sweet potato is better especially with climate change and Samoa being vulnerable to natural disasters.
She pointed out that sweet potatoes grow underground and unlike taro, is not vulnerable to cyclones.
“There are always problems of trying to keep wild pigs out of taro plantations and the taro blight,” said the mother.
“The cost of chemicals and labour that goes in maintaining taro is expensive. It’s the opposite with sweet potatoes. You just plant it and the roots give out more sweet potatoes from one plant than the taro that gives you one taro. The only thing that threatens sweet potato is when rats but other than that it’s a clean job for us.”
On the other side, Tusani said sweet potato is a healthier option when it comes to nutrition and diet.
“Our people love taro which is starchy but sweet potato is naturally sweet and has good nutrition value, lower in calories and can be served as a salad or with our coconut cream to subsidize taro for those who have diabetes and high blood pressure to name a few.”
So how much do you earn from the sweet potatoes?
According to Tusani one taro weighs about 2 kilograms and has a value of about $4 tala.
Compared to sweet potatoes, 2 kilos has a market value of $14 tala.
“There is a big difference between the two when it comes to income,” she said.
“When we had the taro plantation an acre would be about $2000 but 2 acres of sweet potato I can earn four times that money.”
Tusani’s sweet potato produce is delivered to her own established customers and some retailers who resell them.
She said she started planting sweet potato two years ago when she was given planting materials from the Pacific Community (S.P.C.) project through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
From then on she decided to switch from taro to sweet potato and planting the taro she needs for everyday food and fa’alavelave only while focusing on sweet potatoes for commercial purposes.