S.T.E.C. denies claims

The Samoa Trust Estate Corporation (S.T.E.C.) Interim Manager, Jasmine Leota, has rejected claims they are competing with the private sector in terms of exporting coconuts.

“What competition,” she said.

“We are helping the small farmers and families in Savai’i. We buy the popo (coconuts) off of them to fill our container.  There is no competition here.”

Leota’s response was sought following concerns expressed by some business people in Savai’i who say the government shouldn’t be competing with the private sector. 

The man who spoke to the Samoa Observer asked for his name to be withheld because he fears the repercussions on his business if the government finds out who he is. 

But Leota is adamant that S.T.E.C. is lending a helping hand to the small farmers. 

According to Leota, they have a 300-acre coconut farm in Mulifanua; however they still need the farmer’s assistance because of the demand for popo. 

“We only send one container a month to New Zealand and this market came through from the Chamber of Commerce," she said. 

“Keep in mind that we are a Corporation, we don’t get any financial budget from the government. 

“We find ways to collect revenues and so we send the popo and koko Samoa off island. 

“And we are not competing against anyone.

“We help the families in Savai’i from the villages of Sapapali’i, Paia, Safa’i and Papa."

“And this is because we want to sustain the market and we cannot depend on the coconuts collected from our farm in Mulifanua and so we started a program where we ask the villages to gather coconuts from the families. 

“We didn’t want to publicize this service, we went straight to the villages and we also offered to buy the popo from the families we see are selling their popo on the side of the road. 

“I personally went with my team to Savai’i and we called out all interested farmers who have nowhere to take their coconuts to sell it to us,” said Leota. 

“I have noticed that these families and because their supply is basically subsistence. 

“They only sell us 80 coconuts just to get money to buy food on the daily basis and we have encouraged them to start collecting the popo.” 

And so now most families in Savai’i sell 200 coconuts to us when we come over to collect the coconuts. 

“So what we have done is collect all the farmers together and asked them to sell us their popo.” 

According to Leota, they buy the good and the bad coconut. 

“We use the entire coconut, from the skin to the coconut, we use all of it. 

“I know some of the coconut exporters only take the good coconuts, well not us, we buy the popo whether it’s good or bad.” 

She reiterated that S.T.E.C. is not competing with the private sector or any of the exporters. 

“There are so many coconuts out there, the other exporters can buy, we are not taking over the coconut farms in Samoa or Savai’i,” she said. 

Leota says since the program started, they have encouraged families who have big coconut farms to hire young men to take care of their farms. 

“It is good money in the long run, when we are able to send out more containers, but for the time being, we only send out only one container a month.” 

Leota did not divulge how much they buy the coconuts for.

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