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Seasonal workers can revive agriculture: Minister

The Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour, Lautafi Fio Purcell, wants returning seasonal workers to lead the future of agriculture in Samoa. 

By applying their skills learned on large scale fruit orchards or vegetable farms, Lautafi hopes the nation's agriculture sector can improve, leading to better food security and increased exports.

This week Samoa was elected to co-chair an international advisory board on the road to greening the global workforce to successfully meet climate action targets.

For Samoa, that means focusing on sectors like agriculture, construction and tourism to ensure carbon emissions and environmental impacts are as low as possible, Lautafi said.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer after a successful virtual meeting (which had Lautafi and Chief Executive Officer Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling up at 2am), the Minister said he envisions seasonal workers can drive Samoa’s agriculture growth. 

“When they return one of the important aspects is the reintegration of seasonal workers,” Pulotu explained. 

“[We] prepare them before they leave Samoa to have the mindset that when they come back they start new businesses and not just taxis but to diversify in other sectors.

“One of the challenges we are facing now because of COVID-19 is the fact that we have concentrated our basket of eggs in one or a few sectors.

“We should have diversified a long time ago and that is the same message we want to put forward [to the seasonal workers].”

Samoa, alongside Vanuatu and Tonga, is the largest supplier of seasonal labourers to New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (R.S.E.) scheme. 

In the 2018/2019 picking season Samoa contributed 20 percent of the workers to the workforce, or 2,315 workers, and an additional 667 went to Australia under its seasonal work programme. 

According to Samoa’s 2016 census, in 80 per cent of villages, at least one member per household had been in New Zealand for seasonal work that year. 

Surveys of seasonal workers conducted by New Zealand Immigration found some of the main spending priorities for the income made by a seasonal worker is to buy a vehicle for plantation use, equipment or machinery for farming or to invest in a small business.

But often these investments are made after first improving living standards at home, covering the regular living costs, and meeting cultural fa’alavelave obligations.

“It may take three-four years (or longer) of participation in the scheme before families shift towards longer-term investments in agricultural production or small business development,” researchers state.

“In Neiafu, Samoa, the most commonly cited use of R.S.E. money earned during the 2018/19 season was to contribute to a new Methodist church that is under construction in the village and will cost around WST$1.5 million (roughly NZ$850,000). The 57 families in the village that are parishioners are all expected to contribute.”

Lautafi said while Samoans often work on orchards of fruit that are not grown locally, he wants to see more labourers assigned to working with pineapple, banana and mango which are grown and exported successfully in parts of Australia.

He said it is the Government’s role to ensure they not only are placed in relevant farms for their employment but also are encouraged to apply themselves on their return home.

“That is for the Government to do, making sure they go out and do village projects like a pineapple farm, create more jobs for the village, income for the youth.”

 



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