Farmers Association cautions

The Chairman of the Samoa Farmers Association (SFA), Afamasaga Tole’afoa, has warned that the commercialisation of coconut leaf baskets could put an already strained coconut supply at risk.

With the single-use plastic ban firmly in effect, some market vendors and conservationists are looking to Samoa’s traditional woven baskets to fill the gap.

This is well and good for occasional use, Afamasaga said, but anything on a commercial scale risks the coconut trees ability to fruit.

“If you overcut it to get the leaves you are going to reduce the harvest, absolutely. That’s a fact of life,” he said. “I suspect the younger, shorter trees that are more easily reached will be the ones that will carry the brunt.”

Afamasaga said if the way forward for shopping bags is through woven baskets, then Samoa will have to and establish coconut plantations specifically for the harvesting of leaves.

Assistant Chief Executive officer for the Crops Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Moafanua Tolo Iosefa said the sector hopes to plant another two million coconut trees in the next ten years, but it is slow going so far.

Today, an extremely high international and local demand for coconut, combined with an aging, less productive population of trees and a rhinoceros beetle problem means supply cannot keep up.

“Already the supply of drinking coconuts, coconuts used for food, for cream, for export, we are falling behind in terms of supplies of raw nuts,” Afamasaga said. “We are way behind on a proper national replanting program for coconuts.”

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As a result, the coconut supply itself is suffering. Several factors are leading to coconuts getting smaller, but costing more, including the rush to get them off the trees, Afamasaga said.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s quite annoying. The quality just keeps going down, they are picking them greener, and greener and greener, it’s not good.

“You can look at the supplies in the market, you can look at the growth of the drinking coconut as a commercial product, a consumer product, it’s increased tremendously,” he said.

Discussions between the Ministry of Agriculture and the farming private sector on how to fix the problem are ongoing. Starting several more private sector run plant nurseries for coconut seedlings is one way to increase supply. 

Moafanua said he hopes that eight new nurseries (four in Upolu and four in Savaii) will be built and distributing seedlings by the end of the month.

The private sector’s capacity to manage issues is also improving. Afamasaga said he is finding more and more donors and aid partnerships are turning to the private sector rather than governments, which is empowering.

“Farmer organisations are relatively new in Samoa but I think as their capacity improves and grows, and they get more support, which is now beginning to happen with people like IFAD (International Fund for Agriculture Development) coming in.

“I think you will find, rather than working with the ministry, they prefer to work directly with farmers and their organisations, and that is where the support will come from.”

Some training and awareness for farmers on the risks of overcutting their coconut plantation’s leaves would go a long way to defend the supply from diminishing, Afamasaga said.

“It’s a bit of a kneejerk reaction to say let’s go back to the baskets, when we talk about the harm that comes from plastics. It’s easy to say let’s go back, but I think we need to be thinking very seriously, and look at the whole picture and not just the fact that it’s natural. 

“It’s not sustainable.”

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