Unacceptable - food shortage and shipping delays

By The Editorial Board 22 February 2024, 10:00AM

Supermarket shelves are bare and missing both food and non-food items. One of the major reasons for that delay in shipment is that the ship inbound to Samoa has sustained damages and is undergoing repairs. It is not only imports that have been affected, exporters relying on the PFL Matai are at a loss as well.

How have we come to this point? On 9 January, Neptune Shipping gave control of the ship Capitaine Damier to Pacific Forum Line and changed the name of the ship to PFL Matai. In its announcement, Neptune Shipping, the vessel will continue to operate the existing ANZPAC (Australia New Zealand Pacific Islands) service operating between the East Coast of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.

“In this regard with the effect of this change, PFL will be the Vessel Operator (VO) while NPDL becomes a Container Operator (CO) for the sake of operations at the various ports of call,” said Neptune Shipping

Some exporters had raised concerns that the ship does not go directly to Auckland but instead to Tauranga and cargo is then taken by rail. Exporters had a fear that their fresh taro exports which fetch premium prices would be affected.

The ship also does not do a direct Samoa to New Zealand trip.

The situation now is that exporters with fresh produce are waiting from 12 February with the hopes that the ship would arrive on 24 February, this Saturday. The exporters had prepared everything for export for the initial date, which means that most of the fresh produce may not get the ‘fresh’ classification now.

There is also concern about the fresh produce which is inbound to Samoa. 

On the import side of things, there is a massive chicken shortage being felt, sugar is slowly running out and so are other fruits and vegetables that used to be available. The impact of this is that prices have skyrocketed, almost doubling in some cases.

The unscrupulous retailers are taking full advantage of the situation and instead of rationing the products in short supply, they have increased prices to have a bigger profit margin. The average person has two options: either go for another product that could be as expensive or for the cheaper unhealthier option. The latter is what most people are going for.

Not only is there a shortage but people are ending up leaning toward options that will lead to higher cases of non-communicable diseases. People are consuming more tinned fish and turkey tails.

Two very important lessons to be learnt from this experience. The first is the need for a reliable shipping service that services direct routes to Australia and New Zealand. The farmers and growers are trying to expand the export market. How will this be possible if the shipping services are unreliable?

The lucrative markets would always buy from a dependent supplier who can deliver on time and ensure good quality produce. Both these factors are affected by unreliable shipping services.

The other is the continuous reliance on imported food items. This experience should be an eye-opener for many including the government. This shows the inability of growers to focus on the local markets and the type of things that should be focused on.

Where is the livestock? Where are the chicken farms for the production of meat? The poultry industry in Samoa is limited to eggs only. There is potential for the chicken meat industry but there has been no initiative shown from either the government or investors.

Similarly, whatever has happened to the plans to have an abattoir that would allow the livestock industry to grow.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been given by donor partners to improve the agriculture industry, to date there is nothing to show for the money. Can we have someone show us how all that money has gone to waste?

The local supply cannot support the population if the shortage of food problem persists.

The vessel tracking software shows that PFL Matai is still at the wharf in Lautoka in Fiji and has not moved since 12 February. Hopefully, the parts have arrived and the ship has been repaired and it will reach Samoa by the said date.

This cannot continue, the government being the biggest shareholder in PFL has to think of its people and get direct routes to Australia and New Zealand.

There is also a need for the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour to start doing its work. Where are the people from the Price Control Division? If this is the situation now, what will happen when the nation hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting?

By The Editorial Board 22 February 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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