Banana breakthrough for Samoa

By Sapeer Mayron 17 October 2018, 12:00AM

Samoa sent off its first shipment of export ready bananas to New Zealand yesterday, the first since Cyclone Gita ravaged plantations across the country.

The Banana Growers Association gathered its crops to fill two containers, or 500 boxes of bananas for the New Zealand ripe banana market.

Bananas were harvested from the plantations of Taimalie Charlie Westerlund, Ututa’aloga Charlie Ulia and Tuisuga Sofara Aveau, who planted their bananas from South Africa in early 2017. 

Nearly 100 other farmers received planting materials over the course of this year, signalling a promising future for commercial banana exports from Samoa, said the president of the Banana Farmers Association, Tuisuga Sofara Avea.

“This shipment is a trial for commercial sale, which hasn’t been done for almost fifty years,” Tuisuga said.

“We hope only that people are behind this and praying for us that we will be successful and then a lot of Samoans will benefit.”

Last June some bananas were sent to New Zealand in a trial run, to iron out the process of exporting container loads of fruit.

This first commercial shipment arrives in New Zealand in less than a week, as the journey is meant to take five days.

Tuisuga and Taimalie, as well as some other farmers will meet the containers on arrival, to check how well they travelled and follow the rigorous quarantine pathway required by NZ Customs. 

Once they satisfy quarantine, the boxes will be distributed across the ripe banana market by a local distributer, Fresh Direct.

Getting Samoa’s banana market export ready has been a project nearly two years in the making, according to Ah Liki Farm Manager, Johanna Coyle.

“I have been excited about this all week,” she said. “Having the Banana Growers Association has been a major step towards success."

“The people involved are serious growers, and there is no one who doesn’t believe in this,” Ms Coyle said.

The Banana Growers Association was established last September, and has become a hub for knowledge sharing and development among growers.

“We have done the best with the association to subsidised fertilisers and expensive sprayers,” said association president Tuisuga.

“If the farmers went about our work individually then many of us would struggle, but coming together we can help each other.”

Tuisuga and Ms Coyle agreed on one thing. The NZ banana market is big enough for all growers in Samoa to profit.

“We can never make even one percent of the market, we won’t even make a dent,” Tuisuga said.

More successful crops of bananas means the potential to send more frequent containers to NZ, which currently don’t leave frequently enough for a sustainable banana export. 

Ms. Coyle said containers to NZ leave every 12-14 days, but ideally they would leave weekly to keep a steady supply going.

“All the farmers, as a whole need to justify getting a weekly departure to New Zealand by putting up enough produce,” she said.

Tuisuga and his colleagues will arrive in New Zealand on Saturday and will learn if the first shipment has been a success.

By Sapeer Mayron 17 October 2018, 12:00AM

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