Battling the dreaded beetle, and the winds of change blowing over USP Alafua Campus

By Alexander Rheeney, 21 March 2019

Isn’t it lovely seeing the long arm of the Government reaching out to a village struggling to contain the spread of coconut beetles? 

A team from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) was dispatched to the Faleseela-tai village early in the week, to assist contain the spread of the invasive species. Failure to contain its spread would have ultimately endangered the village’s coconut plantation, and in the long-term impact on the community’s ability to earn an income as well as become a harbinger for food security issues. 

The intervention by an MAF team in Faleseela-tai village was reported in today’s edition of the Samoa Observer, in an article titled “Ministry intervenes in coconut beetle crisis”.

Faleseela-tai village mayor, Taloolevavau Ulusele Vaafusuafa, said their coconut farm is important to the community, as it is divided to each family in the village to enable them to earn an income. But the arrival of the coconut rhinoceros beetles is beginning to make life difficult. 

“Our village is such a hardworking village. We do any type of crops and we love working on the lands as a source of income and so we have noticed that the coconut seedlings have decreased,” he said.

Consequently, the village appealed for help, leading to the Ministry responding through the dispatching of a team to run an outreach program at the Faleseela-tai coconut farm. The outreach program led by the MAF officers attracted a large number of villagers.

Top marks to the MAF and the team that ran the outreach program at Faleseela-tai village on Tuesday, their quick intervention should put an end to the beetles’ infestation, and hopefully save the village’s coconut plantation from further ruin. 

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In the same edition today, The University of the South Pacific's Alafua Campus head of school Dr Siaka Diarra, has announced that the USP has met with farmers. The university is about to formalise a working relationship with commercial farmers, in a bid to support the development of Samoa’s agriculture sector. 

It is a welcome development and one that should augur well for Samoa’s potential as a food bowl in the region. More importantly, Dr Diarra has advised he is not afraid of taking on the challenge, despite being a new kid on the block with his appointment in February.

We welcome the positive approach that Dr Diarra – who is an associate professor in animal sciences – has taken since his appointment to the job. 

His decision to downsize commercial egg production on the campus, while emphasising that the USP Alafua Campus is education-oriented and not profit-oriented, gives an indication of his plans for the institution. Even the placement of agriculture students into commercial and smallholder farms in Samoa – to undergo the University’s 20-week work experience program – could be a master stroke. Therefore, it is not a surprise to hear that two students now work fulltime on a farm owned by local businessman Charlie Ah Liki. It is a step in the right.

In a sign of better times ahead for this university, Dr Diarra and his team will meet with the MAF CEO David Hunter and his staff next week to plot a pathway forward for both the Government, the Ministry and the University. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is on the cards, according to the Professor, which will open a new chapter for the educational institution as well as the Samoa Government.

While it is early days yet, we are amazing with the quick turnaround at the USP Alafua Campus, and how its fortunes have changed so quickly with the appointment of Dr Diarra last month.

It was only early this month when this newspaper published stories on the state of the Campus buildings and infrastructure, amidst rising concerns over an appropriate management structure that will best fit and work for the Campus. The USP Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who is based in Fiji and visited the institution, even suggested that the position of pro-vice chancellor for the USP Alafua Campus could be abolished. 

But look at the spaces where the USP Alafua Campus now finds itself in under the leadership of Dr Diarra. Farmers in Samoa will welcome the change in direction, and will no doubt look forward to the collaboration, partnerships and camaraderie between them and the region’s leading tertiary education provider.

Have a lovely Thursday Samoa and God bless. 

By Alexander Rheeney, 21 March 2019

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