Samoa Banana Association slams New Zealand export ban

A ban on members of the Samoa Banana Farmers Association (SBFA) to export bananas to the New Zealand market is discouraging and uncalled for. 

So says the President of SBFA, Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, in response to the ban imposed by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua. 

Lopao’o put a stop to the association from exporting the commodity after a consignment of 505 boxes banana destined was condemned by New Zealand authorities in February. 

In fear of the doorway being shut on Samoa again, since interest in banana exports from the country dropped almost 50 years ago, the Minister’s quick response is to impose the ban temporarily until the association’s “in house rules are sorted”.  

However, the President said the issue with the consignment wasn’t technical and the association is working on addressing the issues from the last shipment. 

“What happened is the bananas were over matured,” Tuisuga said, in an interview with the Sunday Samoan.  

“There must have been one box that had a ripen banana in it and when banana ripe it releases ethylene gas, which eventually will cause other bananas to mature quicker. It could have been because the banana was picked late and not at 12 weeks period.  

“The other issue we had was that we agreed the box we used was not solid enough and could have squashed other boxes. So it wasn’t anything technical that involves quarantine, it was just those issues and we are working on addressing them.”

The President added the decision from the Minister is unnecessary and is already discouraging banana farmers to work. 

Tuisuga also criticised Lopao’o for banning the association without reaching out to its members to discuss the issues. 

“I have never heard of a Minister who bans their own farmers from exporting,” said SBFA President. 

“He should have reached out to us and ask to meet me as the President, so we can work on addressing the issues and working together but instead he declared a ban on the association. 

“It’s very sad and unfortunate to hear about his decision and the consequence of his decision is it discourages farmers who are already discouraged and feeling down.

“My concern is with the ban he has declared the farmers are discouraged and might decide to neglect their banana plantations. 

“And when he decides to lift the ban, if he does he will have no farmers to export, which defeats the purpose of pushing our local farmers to work towards export market.” 

Tuisuga said the export of bananas to New Zealand market was something that the banana farmers and M.A.F. have worked towards and is not an initiative from New Zealand. 

He made the point that it is a learning process for farmers to encounter such challenges, and the Minister should understand that things like that happen. 

According to the President, when the news broke out that their consignment to NZ was unsuccessful, they held trainings to assist banana farmers on marking bananas to make it easy to identify which ones are ready for export. 

The President stressed that rather than neglecting the farmers, the Minister should focus on fighting for better price for exported bananas than “trying to put out our small fire with a bucket”. 

There are 80 members in the SBFA of which 30 have bananas ready for export. An estimate of two containers or equivalent to 1010 boxes of bananas are export ready. 

Now that the farmers are banned from exporting, Tuisuga said that lot of bananas will go to waste if all can’t be sold at the local supermarket. 

In a recent interview with the Minister, Lopao’o said they will not take any risk that might result in closure of the export market to NZ. 

“Until they get their house in order I cannot take that risk because we almost lost the pathway because of their container,” he said. 

“So I stopped them from exporting anymore bananas until MAF is satisfied that they have followed the rules before exporting anymore.”  

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. 

Asked to elaborate on what he meant, Lopao’o said he told the banana association from the beginning they need to let everyone 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.”   

In October 2018, the first shipment of bananas to New Zealand from Samoa marked a turning point for the industry with hopes to make regular shipments to the export market that has been ceased for almost 50 years.

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