Banana distribution should be fair and transparent

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 August 2018, 12:00AM

The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, is correct. He cannot please everyone all the time. 

But then someone should remind him that he is not occupying that office for the sake of pleasing people, he is there to do the right thing by all the people of this country, not just a few. All the time.

Which means he should forget this idea of pleasing people and focus instead on fairness, equality and providing the same opportunities for all Samoans – whether you have money or not. That’s what the Government is there for. 

Anything less is unacceptable. And no matter how one tries to justify it, the people of Samoa are intelligent enough to see right through it – even those small-scale farmers in the villages. 

Which is precisely what has happened in relation to Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Israel banana project.

On the front page of the Sunday Samoan, Minister Lopao’o defended the Government’s decision to prioritise commercial farmers in the distribution of the bananas. He was responding to concerns by small-scale farmers who say they are finding it hard to obtain some of the banana suckers because priority is given to “the rich and bigger commercial farmers.” They have a point. 

But the Minister said among the prominent businessmen who have received the bulk of the bananas are Taimalie Charlie Westerlund, Ututa’aloga Charlie Ulia and a group of people at Magiagi. Who these people at Magiagi are he did not say. It would be interesting to find out who they are.

And why this particular village?

 “I see the commitment of the big players and I always say the ‘tide raises all ships.’ When the big guys are able to start the exports and the market grows and that’s when the small holder farmers can bring in their bananas as well,” Minister Lopao’o explained.

 “My objective is to push the exports and I want to the exports to be sustainable. But the bananas we have is not enough to sustain a continual supply for export which is why we are actually trying to push certain farmers with abilities to get the banana base going expanding quickly.”

“This is my belief and my objective which may provide conflict but I am going to push my agenda so it will work but everyone will get bananas – it’s going to be a slow process. These Israel bananas are for export and we are trying to develop our exports to a level that will be sustainable.” 

“If we give out 100 bananas here and there, it’s not going to work and no one is going to make any money on 100 bananas because you have to have all the equipment, you need workers, you need to inject the tree, you need fertilizer, you need the machine to spray the crops – it’s very expensive.”

To be fair to the Minister, there is logic in what he is saying especially given the proven successful history of someone like Taimalie Charlie. We know what he is capable of. Which would have been perfect if the project was a private one. 

But in this case, from what we can gather, it is not. Which means that whether you are a commercial farmer or a small subsistent farmer, the Government cannot be seen to favour anyone. 

It is not normal and it is definitely not in the best interest of transparency, accountability and good governance that this Government gloats about every day.

Besides, if the issue is the farmers’ ability to develop their farms and cultivate the banana variety in accordance with standards, shouldn’t this be where the Government comes in? 

Shouldn’t the Government then invest some money in a project where farmers can loan to buy fertilizers, equipment and whatever else they need to get this project off the ground? 

Imagine if the Ministry of Agriculture were to sell all those flash Ford Rangers and get the money to give to farmers so they can help achieve the Government’s export goal? 

Think of the possibilities. Instead of concentrating all the effort in the hands of two people, you could have fifty or more farmers who are made to feel a sense of ownership of the project and will go out of their way to find success and return the favour to the Government for placing faith in their abilities?

This, in our view, is the best way forward. And most importantly, every one is made to feel important and valuable. The Government is for all the people of Samoa – not just some people. What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a fabulous Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 August 2018, 12:00AM

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