S.R.O.S. commercial arm begins next year

A $2.5 million fund from the Government’s economic stimulus package earmarked for food security and establishing a commercial arm of the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) will begin next year. 

The bulk of the funds allocated to S.R.O.S., are expected to be used from mid-January to build a multipurpose facility and acquire equipment. 

The fund, announced in April during the first stimulus package, received criticism by farmers and small businesses who felt neglected after receiving no direct cash payments. 

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, S.R.O.S. Corporate Services Manager, Alailepule Christopher Lei Sam, said the initiative will benefit farmers in the long run. 

He defended the Government’s S.R.O.S. allocation for COVID-19 saying the entity had to take the first step to commercialise its research base on Samoan-made goods. 

“It’s a ten year-development plan by S.R.O.S. and [we] can’t keep waiting for private investors to take it up,” said Alailepule. 

“We do receive interested bids but it's all talk and no action. 

“If we continue to rely on that it would deprive our farmers of these opportunities commercially…” 

S.R.O.S. has failed to attract private companies and investors to take up its research on Samoan made goods. 

They include dehydrated products such as chocolate made from cocoa Samoa, flour made from breadfruit and banana, avocado oil and whiskey made from taro. 

Alailepule hopes that buying the expensive equipment to upscale production for commercial purposes will attract private business and reduce capital costs. 

The Manager said now that S.R.O.S.had the necessary capital costs from the stimulus package, he is optimistic that the private sector will be interested in continuing the initiative. 

“The opportunity is to ensure our farmers and our people benefit from it,” he said. 

“S.R.O.S. is not looking at this as profit-making. We don’t hold on to it; the idea is once it’s developed [’s...]  time to forego [the commercial side of things while we make…] sure the products are protected [by intellectual property].”

In addition, he said S.R.O.S. does not compete with private businesses but the long term plan is to go into partnership with an investor and have the entity returns to its objective of being a research organisation. 

According to Alailepule, the funding will be used to pay for transportation of produce such as breadfruit, taro et al so that farmers don’t have to worry about transport costs. 

The proposed plan is to set up a storage warehouse for ethanol made from taro so that hand sanitisers can be locally produced to supply the hospitals instead of buying them from overseas. 

He added that they were working on awareness programmes for farmers so they can plant goods to supply the commercial needs of consumers at all times.

An example he used is the avocado that gives fruit once a year and breadfruit that doesn’t season throughout the year. 

He said people need awareness so they can identify when to harvest and that there is enough being planted. 

The Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, in announcing the $2.5 million fund, said it aimed to commercialise local value-added agriculture processes such as gluten free breadfruit flour, coconut oil, and avocado margarine.

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