Homegrown agricultural innovations a welcome sign

Typically a black sheep is not a good omen.

But the unveiling last week of a new breed of Samoan sheep, the distinctively coloured “Mamoe Samoa”, could well mean quite the opposite.

Our own new breed of sheep, on display at the Pacific Week of Agriculture, is better adapted to our local climate, is more environmentally friendly to rear and boasts improved birth rates and weights. 

The sheep, which follows the introduction of experimental livestock breeding programmes by the Government more than a decade ago, reflects the recent success we have been enjoying in sponsoring agricultural innovation. And it’s success that could be the answer to our ongoing concerns about food security, a chance to breathe life into our flagging export industry – or perhaps just a bit of both. 

These innovations were on display at the Pacific Week of Agriculture. And they yielded some impressive results – for our own food security and maybe even down the track the creation of an export market.

The Fisheries Ministry has delivered some similarly impressive results in the burgeoning aquaculture sector.

The manner in which they have aggregated the cultivation of trochus (or sea snails) which are highly prized by overseas buyers for their attractive shells and had previously only been valued for their meat. 

The goal of developing a sustainable aquaculture sector in Samoa dates back more than 50 years. But only recently have the results been so impressive.

The public multi-marine species hatcheries around Samoa are on track toward producing up to 50,000 juvenile species of our giant clams. The clams, despite being valued as highly as a USD$1000 by foreign delicacy hunters connoisseurs reserved for local use and restocking. 

Back on land, another new projects is allowing Samoa to grow its own answer to broccoli, sweet potatoes and other plants which had previously been prohibitively expensive here. 

We remain at the early stages of many of these innovations. But the applications for food security and rejuvenating our agricultural sector are immense.

Due to the tyranny of distance, Samoa ranks close to the 200th least convenient country to import food from in the world. And agricultural production has been responsible for a declining share of our GDP in recent years. 

What’s more our dependence on foreign food has grown with the rising arrival of foreign tourists and a need to cater for their diets; the gap between the food we produce and that which we export is yawning and growing wider. 

So it’s been heartening this week to see the industry, donors and, of course, the Government swim against this tide and innovate; to come up with new ways in which we can develop new kinds of food.

Credit must go to the senior leaders of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) who are spearheading this initiative and the more senior members of the Cabinet who are steering the nation towards a food security strategy that promotes the sustainable development of healthy diets.

International success stories of Samoan produce, such as organic coconut oil and the rising popularity overseas of nonu juice show that despite the seemingly dire state of the balance of agricultural trade such goals are not impossible. 

Indeed, sustainability may well be one area in which Samoa already has a considerable advantage. According to a a 2018 study we led the Oceania region in the number of farms classed as ‘organic’ with more than 22 per cent, compared to our neighbours such as Australia (6.7 per cent) and Vanuatu (6.3 per cent).

The growing global craze for organic produce and the announcement by the Government this week that it would bring in new certification standards for what constitutes organic farm is yet another example of the way in which we are steadily building our potential.  

Whatever the case, it’s hard to view this recent spate of homegrown innovation as anything but a positive sign.

Have a lovely Sunday, Samoa. And God bless. 

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