Banana export ban and call for nonu standards timely wake up call

The honeymoon period for the Samoa banana industry getting a foothold into the New Zealand market didn’t last long. 

Judging from the latest developments, unless the Government is careful, the marriage could also be on the rocks. Which is what no one wants.

We’re referring to the developments revealed in a story titled “Ministry stops Banana Farmers Association from exporting bananas” published last week.

It wasn’t that long ago that the big breakthrough with banana exports to New Zealand was heralded as one of the best achievements by the agriculture sector on these shores. And rightly so. 

After 50 years of trying and failing, Samoa getting a foot in the door of the multi-million-dollar kiwi market was celebrated with much glee. And everyone in the farming community was excited about the opportunity to export their bananas and make some money. 

Who wouldn’t be, especially in a country that desperately needs a solid export strategy to drive economic growth, provide much-needed employment and improve people’s prospects?

Alas the party appears to be over before it truly started.

Last week, we were told the Government has stopped members of the Banana Farmers Association (BFA) from exporting except for Tanumapua Farms, operated and run by Taimalie Charlie Ah Liki.

The decision, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, follows a container of bad bananas which has threatened to shut New Zealand’s door on Samoa. Again. 

So what happened?

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

And the Government is not taking any chances with local farmers.

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

It would be great to hear from the President of BFA, Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, but he has been unwell.  

In the meantime, we want to say that the Minister has an extremely very valid point. While the decision will no doubt disappoint a lot of farmers, it is easy enough to understand why the Government has resorted to what it has done. 

The Government must do what it needs to do to protect the market for Samoa. At the same time, there is an obvious need to amp up its efforts to raise awareness and educate farmers about the standards required to satisfy the market. 

To be fair to farmers, this is probably the wake up call they needed in terms of being reminded there are standards to be met if they want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the New Zealand market. 

But here’s the thing, developing and meeting these standards are not going to happen overnight. Mistakes will be made and lessons will need to be learned, which is how we become better at anything.

Speaking of standards, when it comes to all exports, this so vital. Take another story titled “Nonu exporter concerned, calls for minimum standards” published on the front page of your newspaper yesterday.

This time the fruit in question was nonu, where Exporter, Garry Vui, of Nonu Samoa called for the establishment of minimum standards to ensure the quality of nonu being exported from Samoa. 

 “My biggest concern is to protect our industry; we protect the fact that we have a very good product,” he said.

According to Mr. Vui, there is no official national standard for nonu exports, which means there is no guarantee of quality from products being sent from Samoa.

To highlight the problem, Mr. Vui pointed out there are barely any dedicated nonu farms in Samoa. Which means people collect nonu from their gardens, from the side of the road and anywhere. We can easily begin to imagine where the problems come in.

“Because there are no official standards, a company can do whatever it wants,” he said, referring to companies who collect nonu. 

“But when it starts affecting the industry as a whole I think that’s wrong. We all have standards I think we should be working to.”

Mr. Vui is absolutely correct. The point is certainly timely for the relevant authorities – and everyone involved. It should definitely be taken as a wake up call.

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?