Ministry stops Banana Farmers Association from exporting bananas

Samoa's Banana Farmers Association (BFA) has been stopped from exporting banana to the New Zealand market, after a container carrying 505 boxes of bananas was condemned last month by New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

The container was supplied by members of the Association 

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, told Samoa Observer yesterday in an exclusive interview that Samoa came close to loosing its export market in New Zealand over the issue. 

“The banana export almost hit a snag last month, when we had one container going over from the Banana Association and almost ruined it for every Samoan farmer,” he said.  

 “It was because of so many reasons (but) they did not observe the rules. They haven’t maintained their plantation and as a result the whole 505 boxes condemned by MPI. 

“Right now I have stopped the Association from exporting any more bananas except for one local company (Ah Liki).”

BFA president, Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, was unwell and could not comment when he was contacted by this newspaper today.  

Due to the ban on the BFA and its members, Lopao’o said they can now only sell their products locally until their in-house issues are resolved.

“Until they get their house in order, I cannot take that risk because we almost lost the pathway because of their container. So I stopped them from exporting anymore bananas until MAF is satisfied that they have followed the rules before exporting anymore.”  

When the Minister was asked how the container of bananas bypassed quarantine to get to New Zealand, he said the matter had nothing to do with quarantine.

“The bananas are not allowed to be self-ripping on arrival,” he explained. 

“Self-ripping has to do with when the bell (tumoa) of the banana falls down to when it is harvested. There is a rule of farm that when it (banana bell) drops down then 13 – 14 weeks maximum it should be ready for export. 

“Any more than that it will be ripped in a matter of days. And therefore we cannot enforce farmers of how that is done and that is why we recommended to the association to tag their bananas.”

Lopao’o added that once the banana shoot comes out, it will help farmers monitor and keep track of how old the bananas are and when it would be ready for export. 

Failure to monitor the maturity of the bananas led to the condemnation of the 505 boxes of bananas, he added. 

The Minister also acknowledged the help of New Zealand Samoa Trade & Investment Commissioner Magele Mauiliu Magele, who worked with the MPI to resolve the issue to ensure that the market remained open for Samoa.  

Unlike taro which is popular amongst the Pacific island community, Lopao’o stressed that banana is for everyone – no matter what ethnicity and the market is huge in New Zealand. 

According to the Minister he had warned farmers from the beginning to take things slow and let the big company take the lead in the export. 

When he was asked to explain what he meant, Lopao’o said he told the BFA from the beginning that they need to let every farmer know how costly the operation is to export bananas. 

“(That way)They can prepare for it so when they go big they know how much it is going to cost them and all the rigmarole that they need to know in terms of going from A to B – planting to exporting. It is a big job; it’s not a small job.”   

The Minister further explained that the local company taking over the export at the moment is aware of the issue.

“I said to farmers to let the company take the lead and absorb all the problems we are having. I’m not saying it in a negative way, I’m thankful I can rely on them to help us go through this process because MAF can’t afford to do it. We have a private sector player that has put up their hand to do it and we also support him and willing to support anyone…”

The first Samoan shipment of banana exports to New Zealand in over 50 years was done last October and marked a turning point for the industry after interest in Samoan bananas dropped off nearly 30 years ago.

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