Don’t reinvent the wheel, says farmer

An agri-tourism park would be inauthentic and “half-baked,” a cacao farmer and tour guide believes.

Next year, Samoa’s ministries of Tourism and Agriculture and Fisheries intended to open a ten acre park in Nu’u to showcase the agricultural produce of Samoa to tourists. 

When plans were announced last year, it would cost T$9.14 million to build, and be partly funded by the European Union.

Floris Niu is a cacao farmer from Tuana’i and has been integrating tourism into her work on the plantation for nearly three years. She said the proposals make her mad.

“We are already doing this, why don’t you support us by giving us some sort of funding or a hand up?” she said.

Government should be investing in the people making economies out of agri-tourism in villages all across Samoa, instead of concentrating energies in a brand new park.

“It’s just the most ridiculous thing ever. I mean come on, how authentic would that be?

“Or, let’s look at it a different way - how many people are they going to employ in that one tourist farm, as opposed to how many individual farmers and their families that are could benefit and be able to make economies from that? 

“You’ve got to be able to put the numbers together,” Miss Niu said.

When plans were first announced, a friend and colleague of Miss Niu’s, the late Seumanutafa Dr Malcolm Hazelman said Samoa already had enough farms, both government and privately owned to use for tourism and didn’t need a new park.

“With all due respect, the development of such an agrotourism park is ill advised…misplaced and misdirected planning,” he said in an interview with Samoa Planet.

Miss Niu said government should invest in Samoan’s already making headway in the industry.

“Let us flourish and create and develop, help us to do it but don’t take it over,” she pleaded.

Miss Niu runs Miss Sunshine Farms, not half an hour out of Apia town and tucked inland between the villages of Tuana’i and Afega.

She runs four hour morning tours of her farm, including a vegan umu lunch, and probably some farmhand work as well.

“Some people just never want to leave afterwards, so sometimes I make them do some pruning if they hang around and they really do enjoy it. It’s a hands-on kind of experience. 

“I also tried to make it interactive for them, right down to them helping with the umu, turning the beans, spreading the beans out to dry on the mats.”

The experience is practical, engaging and ideally educational, Miss Niu said.

“So we serve the cacao and give [tourists] a chance to sample chocolates and cacao beans, look at the post-harvest processing and understand what a huge process it is for the bean to become this wonderful thing called chocolate. 

“Then, you can’t scoff at the price when you know the process and what’s behind it,” Miss Niu laughed.

Miss Sunshine Farms hosts monthly tours of groups no larger than 12. Miss Niu said it took a bit of experimenting before she got that right, trying with a group of 21 but finding it “too intense.”

“I need to be able to answer all their questions, pay attention to each of them, and make it feel like a personalised experience rather than just being there to see some cacao,” Miss Niu said.

Miss Sunshine Farms also hosts interested tourists for up to two weeks to live and work with her on the plantation of nearly 20 acres.

Miss Niu targets her advertising to websites that attract tourists who would be happy roughing it for a few nights.

Websites like HelpX and Willing Workers on Organic Farms (W.W.O.O.F) New Zealand are two sites that do that, and where most of Miss Niu’s tour groups and volunteers find her, as well as by word of mouth.

Everyone could be working with tourists and traveling workers on their farms, Miss Niu said, in this simple way of developing an economy.

“I am sure everyone would love to grab that opportunity,” she said.

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