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Agriculture Chief Executive rejects "new disease" claim

The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.), Tilafono David Hunter, has dismissed claims about a “new disease” infecting vegetables and plantations around the country.

In response to concerns raised by some small farmers that this “new disease” has spoiled their produces – which they say is a contributing factor to the rising cost of vegetables - Tilafono has assured they are not aware of any disease.

The farmers whom the Samoa Observer spoke with did not have a name for the “new disease.” But they insist there is something infecting their produces so that they are forced to harvest them earlier.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Tilafono admitted the heat and the lesser rainfall has indeed affected the growth of vegetables throughout the country.

“Generally speaking when there is no rain it does have an impact on the growth of vegetables and plantations,” he said.

“As for the concerns from farmers about the diseases, there is no new disease. Not that we are aware of anyway.

“If you refer to records of Met Office we have gone through a dry spell and that has notably affected tender plants like vegetables.

“So the issue would be water supply to their crops which is out of our control. That is something between them as consumers and the water supplier.”

Tilafono explained the Crops Division has a regular field course where they go out and raise awareness on what the farmers can do and ask questions on issues they have about their produces.

He added his office is always available for farmers if they have any concerns or to contact the Crops Division at Nuu.      

The Ministry’s Annual Report July 2016 – 2017 highlighted works done by the Crops Division to monitor and evaluate diseased plants from farmers.

The report stated a Plant Clinic was held in both islands allowing farmers to bring in the diseased plants or physical evidence to Plant Doctors to identify the problem using the experience, leaflets and mini factsheets.

The main crop problems presented by the farmers in both islands were: tomato bacterial wilt, Large Cabbage Moth (L.C.M.) for cabbages, crack on breadfruit, banana bunchy top virus, fungal lead spot on cucumber, rotten of young pumpkins fruits, rotten of taro corms and cocoa pods.

Last week, farmers that spoke with the Samoa Observer voiced concerns on produces being spoiled and infected forcing growers to push up the cost of vegetables and fruits.

One of them was Ronnie Malaki of Aleisa who blamed the weather affecting the quality of produces.  

“Our plantations are going through a stage where produces are spoiled and infected if you don’t pick them early,” said Mr. Malaki.

“If you look at the pawpaw being sold, they are quite green and they are picked early because if you don’t it gets spotty over it and it will eventually become spoiled before its ready to eat.

Similarly with banana and taro plantation…the leaves are turning yellow and its not the taro leaf plight it is a different kind of disease. I believe it is the change in the weather and especially the hot temperature that is drying up the soil affecting the growth of produces.”

The A.C.E.O. for the Meteorology Office, Mulipola Titimaea Ausetalia confirmed less rainfall is expected during this period.

Furthermore, the M.A.F. Annual Report made reference to concerns from farmers suspecting a new taro disease which was reported to the Management team.

Symptoms for the suspected diseases are chlorosis of leaf veins, curled leaves and stunted growth of the plant.

The results following samples sent to German for testing came out negative that there was no virus strain for taro.

“Completed a survey and spraying for the areas that was being reported that was affected by the diseases now listed as hot spots in Upolu Island,” stated the report.

“We also visited Savaii Island, and the survey indicated that there is no disease found.

“Awareness programme was carried out for Samoa through the use of media. Samples for taro infected leaves were collected, prepared and sent to Germany for identification of virus strain.

“The results received from the German scientist saying that there were two outcomes or results. The result that received first is negative against the suspected virus given by the Crop Division.”



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