Highway to success for farmers
Agriculture has more potential rather than being verbally considered as one of the backbone of Samoa’s economy.
This is aside from local small or semi-scale subsistence farming.
Samoa Observer spoke to two large scale commercial farmers in Samoa who have made the furrows of a farm look like a highway to business success.
These two farmers are beneficiaries of the assistance provided under the China-Samoa Agricultural Technical Cooperation Project.
Project Head, Jim Liu said their main focus is not to compete with local farmers but rather support them.
“For us here at the Nu’u demonstration farm, we don’t sell what we harvest but we deliver them to the Nu’u crop division who then distribute or sell it to the workers within their division or the Ministry of Agriculture,” Mr. Jim said.
“For many farmers we want to test the seeds and provide them with seedlings and not sell what we harvest.
“More farmers are moving from subsistence farming to semi-commercial and commercial farming. For big commercial farmers, agriculture is their main source of livelihood and income for their family."
Sara Ah-Hoy, Aleisa
She is a former teacher who taught at the Robert Louis Stevenson College for 22 years. Sara resigned to assist her husband with maintaining their farm at Aleisa because they were also supplying the National Hospital, into its fourth year now.
Her income from being a white collar worker is nothing compared to what she earns from harvesting and selling her vegetables. According to Sara, she measures this through her ability to earn enough from farming to help her daughters’ attend an expensive institution like the Robert Louis Stevenson School.
“The Chinese team installed my tunnel houses in February this year during the cyclone season. So it’s just about two months now.
“I was willing to get the tunnel houses because if you look at the structure of the tunnel houses I have it is open.
“I’ve been doing that for six years now and before this team came there was another team that came three years ago. I went to the Ministry of Agriculture for tunnel houses and they said the tunnel houses are mainly for the community.
“You had to come together as a community and then you can get tunnel houses but this new team from China, I think they’ve been only here for two years now and I think their main focus is the farmers who are looking for technology to help their farms. So we are thankful to them because we have been applying for this for many years and finally we get tunnel houses.
“I received two tunnel houses from the Chinese team but I also use the open field.”
Inside the tunnel houses, she grows different types of vegetables to test how fast they can grow.
“We like working under the tunnel house, like I said I have been working under the tunnel houses for six years now and there is a big difference.We are planting only the tomatoes here because this is a high value vegie. I’m only going for the high value vegies because these are very expensive in the market,” Sara said.
“We have already harvested the three beddings of tomatoes and head cabbage because of the bad weather. It was good because we almost got $2000 tala from harvesting one bed of head cabbage.
“I supply to a lot of supermarkets, restaurants, caterings and downtown at the market because I have a stall at the market.
“In terms of supplying to the supermarkets, I sell one head cabbage for $5 tala. I don’t grow Chinese cabbage here because it is a waste of time and it can be grown in the open field because you sell it for $3 tala the lowest for one bundle which to me means anybody can grow that.
“For the egg plants, we estimated $20 tala for one plant and then you multiply by the number of plants, maybe the difference is 10 percent less from your estimation.
“I have three varieties because we hardly get our seeds from here. Every six months we fly over to New Zealand for three days to get the seeds for all my vegies. The seeds here are not reliable because maybe if you use one packet, 60 or 70 percent come out good.
“The biggest expense we have is water. We don’t have running water. We buy water. Now thank God for the rainwater so we just have to use any catchments to collect water otherwise we have to buy water.”
Sara uses half of the one-acre land her family has for farming and she only uses chicken manure because it’s natural and organic.
“When I first started my farm, we were seeking assistance from S.B.E.C. and we had savings on the side and because S.B.E.C. needed a farmer to have a savings on the side, that’s what we had and they helped me.
“We have the land, all we had to do is work on it, so with the assistance of various organizations like S.B.E.C, A.D.B and Chinese I was able to farm my land and develop it further.
“I am still waiting on the Chinese to supply my other requests and I don’t supply international markets because we don’t have that right now.
“Before I used to export taro but now we’re just focusing on the local market. We used to have this buyer but the price of taro keeps getting low. We’ve been to New Zealand and what we saw is that the Samoan taro is not the same as the taro we get from elsewhere like in Fiji.”
Sara advises subsistence farmers willing to move to commercial farming to be consistent with what they farm and what they plant.
John Mapusua, Aleisa
He was brought up in a family of commercial farmers. He has 10 siblings and their education expenses were all paid through farm earnings.
John was assisted with tunnel houses seven months ago under the China-Samoa aid. The 46-year-old has a farm in Tanumalala, a 95-acre farm in Lalonaea where he grows crops and seedlings, a 10-acre farm in Aleisa where he focuses on growing vegetables and a six-acre farm in Falelauniu where he raises his pigs, plants Tahitian lime, bananas and coconuts.
According to John, he cannot supply the growing demand for vegetables from the local markets. He supplies to Frankie’s Supermarket, Farmer Joe and other small outlets in Samoa.
“At the moment, the sale of what I harvest is not really good because of the unfavourable weather, but if it’s favourable, we can’t supply the demand of 300 or 250 bundles of cabbage per night.
“For example if they request 200 Chinese cabbage a night because we deliver at night, and seven nights that’s 1,400 bundles, multiply that by two that’s $2,800 tala from just the sale of Chinese cabbage.
“But as you can see, we have varieties of vegetables, we have long bean, short bean, green pepper, eggplant, sweet corn, watermelon, cucumber and that’s apart from the Chinese cabbage.
“Inside the tunnel house, the Chinese cabbage takes only three weeks or less to harvest but in the open field five weeks because of the weather.
“I like using the tunnel house because it has boosted my income. There are no problems inside the tunnel house because they’re more or less organic farming, insects are left out and the plastic over the tunnel house controls the rain. You will see there’s 90 percent no insect but out in the open field 100 percent insect and disease.
“For the Chinese cabbage inside the tunnel house, that’s about 1,800 cabbages in one bed and there are two beds. Sometimes we have two, three or four in a bundle. What I calculated before is because there are some cabbage that bad and rotten so you can’t harvest all the 1,800 cabbages.
“I sell the Chinese cabbage for $2 tala a bundle, so for three weeks, I would get $2000 tala and in the open field if I harvest what I make would vary because of the unfavourable weather. I like the tunnel house better.
“The income I get covers my expenses. I spend money on fertilisers, the 10 workers I have they have to be paid. We work more time on the farm not only here, but all the other farms that we have. Apart from the fertilisers, I also use chicken manure.”
For challenges he faces as a commercial farmer, John explained: “Competition with other commercial farmers only happen if we plant the same variety, but if we don’t then there’s no competition at all. But even though we plant the same vegetables, there are heaps of restaurants and Samoan people who want the vegetables.
“Then there are the diseases. The insect that damage the plants, there are no chemicals to kill the insects because there are different kinds of insects damaging the different kinds of vegetables.
“That’s the main problem with us farmers because with the wet weather some other diseases also emerge and we have no knowledge of what to do so we just let it go.”
John said he has requested the Chinese team for two more tunnel houses to help close the gap between the demand and supply chain.