A simple belief in somebody can be a catalyst for greatness.
After disrupting the way things are done in the realm of commercial farming in Samoa, Peter Tulaga Eliesa, went from being a nobody to being a somebody in a span of four years.
Today the 37-year-old is Samoa’s largest commercial taro farmer as well as a respected and reliable authority on taro farming in the industry despite some resistance in the beginning.
“ I struggled big time when I started,” Mr. Eliesa said
“I came from nothing - nobody knows who my family are and we are from the middle of nowhere village. I started off with five acres and then I applied to lease land from S.L.A.C and they rejected me five times. They said there was no land, lots of areas and a long waiting list but I also think they didn’t believe in me and thought I was too young to ask for bigger land like 50 or 100 acres.”
The then 33-year-old decided to be bolder and approached the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in 2014 and was given a promise that was never followed through.
Down but not out, the ambitious farmer instead turned to the Minister of Samoa Land Corporation, Lautafi Fio Purcell who gave him the chance he needed to achieve his goals and show his critics that he meant business.
“I admire him… Lautafi didn’t even know who I was. He didn’t judge me on my age or my lack of experience in the farming industry – he just wanted to know how I was going to do it. He listened to my plan and I said to him that I just only needed one opportunity - he approved the 50 acres, Lautafi said to me ‘Peter, don’t let me down.’
Lautafi approved Mr. Eliesa’s application, giving him fifty acres to begin work on his taro farming ambitions.
Asked for a response about what he saw in the aspiring farmer those three years ago and Lautafi responded to the Samoa Observer saying,
“I saw someone who was talking my language when I was that age, full of honesty, enthusiasm and determination to do something positive with his life and all he needed was a chance to put all his feelings and plans into reality.”
“I gave him 50 acres of un-used government land thinking that should keep him happy and I won’t see him for a year or two. Within three months he was at my office again asking for more land - I couldn’t believe it.”
“I went to inspect his farm and sure enough there was not a square foot of the 50 acres, unused. He deserved more opportunities so I gave him more land which other people had leased but hadn’t bothered to cultivate.”
Perhaps lending to the disbelief of those gate keepers from old farming circles as well as government departments who stood in the way of Mr Eliesa’s dreams was the fact that Peter did not fit the profile of a farmer from Aleisa.
“When the work began and people were laughing asking, what is this boy doing?” Eliesa laughs “ In my area, it’s all rich farmers they own 50 to 100 acres and they’re business people. When I first started I was the only taro farm there and everyone thought I was crazy, some laughed at me because they know that there are a lot of issues like the thieves, the pigs and cattle who trod on your taro.”
And how did the determined taro farmer solve those issues?
“ I made a bigger and better farm.” He smiles. “ I plant 100,00 taro for the pigs to eat and the thief to steal because everybody has to eat but just leave the other acres for me. Of course everyone is laughing at me but it works. That’s my attitude, bigger and better.”
These days, the only person laughing is Eliesa as he makes his way to the bank and affords his family a comfortable lifestyle.
Meanwhile the taro farmer turns his attention to the horizon and sees where Samoa’s taro farming industry could be and how he can contribute to lifting the industry with his time, skills and resources.
Motivating other taro farmers is at the top of his priority list, giving advice and free tiapula to farmers who cannot afford to buy in bulk as well supply taro and food stuffs to Mapuifagalele and a school for children with disabilities in Moamoa.
On top of that he is also assisting the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries with their efforts to breed a taro variety that will be resistant to the latest virus to hit our crops.
“ I used to enter a lot of competitions but this year I pulled myself out, I don’t want to compete with them because I have to be fair and give opportunities to other farmers to help them up because this industry needs to grow and there’s no point in competing with them.”
Looking back on Peters short but well lived journey to becoming the country’s leading commercial taro farm, Minister Lautafi had this to say about that enthusiastic young would-be farmer who bowled him over those three years ago with his dreams and wild plans,
“ Peter hasn’t looked back since, good on him and I wish we had more young people who see farming as a career. He has a great attitude about his business and he shares his with other farmers his skills to help them, he gives freely to the needy ,he has a good heart and he will succeed. I am just happy I was there to give him that initial chance.”
And on the topic of the leased but unused government land that Peter received, the Minister had this to say “My message to those leasing government land is “Use it or lose it”.”
Eliesa has dreams to expand and intends to collaborate with the necessary partners to continue lifting the taro industry. The multi talented taro tycoon also has plans to tap into his mechanical engineering and building skills to make his next move but ultimately this rags to riches taro farmer has one umbrella dream that he would like think his work is helping to make a reality,
“I want people to have equal opportunities like I had because I came from nothing – that’s my dream. That’s why I want the government to generate planting and grow this industry and for people to have opportunities.