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The taro export lifeline and taking a holistic approach

The country enters the first week of a month-long state of emergency today, after the Cabinet met last Friday and decided to extend the S.O.E. by another four weeks.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi announced the extension before the 14-days S.O.E. expired last Saturday, while adding that the four-week extension will give Samoa the guarantee that it remains free from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As one of the first nations in the region to impose strict travel restrictions on travellers entering the country, we are now beginning to see the benefits of that intervention with Samoa now one of few states in the world with no confirmed cases.

Our neighbours Fiji confirmed five new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing their total to 12, compelling Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to warn that he might have no choice but to put the country in lockdown if the cases increase.

In New Zealand authorities have 950 confirmed cases and one death with 127 having recovered from the virus. 

On a global scale, COVID-19 continues to take lives and decimate economies, having already logged 1.2 million confirmed cases and is on course to claiming 65,000 lives worldwide, according to data from the U.S. Johns Hopkins University. A total of 246,000 COVID-19 patients have recovered.

Therefore, we must not be complacent and should continue to adhere to the S.O.E. orders and live our normal lives, despite the emergence of new challenges, such as the curtailing of movement and restricted trading hours for supermarkets.

The restricted trading hours and the banning of the sales of goods in Apia – in line with the orders of the SOE – is already having an impact on the ability of some families to take care of their needs.

However, we note a silver lining in these clouds of uncertainty with the news of Samoa’s taro being thrown an export lifeline to the New Zealand and U.S. markets, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic shutdown.

Revelations by local exporter Ah Liki Investment of their intention to continue to export taro to the two international markets, amidst the global pandemic, will be music to the ears of Samoa’s local farmers. 

“Despite the lockdown measures these countries have imposed, they are still accepting our product as it is considered an essential food item,” said Ah Liki Investment General Manager, Asiata Alex Brunt.

“Their supermarkets/dairies remain open to serve their respective populations so the window remains open for us as they understand too the importance of food security.”

The company plans to ship up to five containers to New Zealand next week containing taro from farmers in both Upolu and Savai’i.

The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, says the export market is an essential window to assist local farmers during COVID-19. 

And we cannot agree more as it ensures continuity in terms of income generation for the farmers and their families, at a time when even accessing markets within the country, has become a hurdle due to S.O.E. restrictions.

This window of opportunity for Samoa’s taro farmers coincides with the recent decision by the Australian government to extend the visas of participants in Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, which would see Samoans currently participating in the two programmes being able to extend their stay for up to one year.

Like the taro export opportunity, Australia’s extension of the visas for Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme participants will also have a positive effect on their families in Samoa. 

The uncertainty driven by rising COVID-19 infection rates in Australia would have created fear amongst seasonal workers’ families back home, but that can now be put to bed as a steady stream of financial support can be confirmed if the Samoan workers opt to extend their visas for up to a year.

But we know that there are families who do not have access to these income generation opportunities, and are most likely to be the ones who will fall through the gap, if the Government doesn't consider some form of financial support when the S.O.E. has obstructed their means of and access to income.

In fact taking a holistic approach when formulating the Government’s proposed COVID-19 stimulus package would ensure the interests and welfare of everyone is taken into consideration and no one gets left behind.

Let’s continue to adhere to the S.O.E. orders, maintain social distancing and promote hygiene and sanitation.

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