For the first time in more than twenty years, green bananas from Samoa will return to retail and supermarket shelves in New Zealand by the end of the year.
By then the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) is optimistic that the first harvest of scientifically developed Israeli banana suckers from South Africa will have matured and ready for the initial export shipment bound for the land of the long white cloud.
It’s an achievement which the Minister of M.A.F., Lopao’o Nataielu Mu’a, has aggressively pursued since taking up office less than a year ago.
It started with a consignment of 200,000 banana suckers funded by the World Bank through the Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project.
That initial shipment was distributed to members of the Samoa Banana Growers Association with the target to export to New Zealand by September this year. However, the plan was disrupted by Cyclone Gita earlier in the year which destroyed over 40% of the banana farms in the country.
But M.A.F. has bounced back with a Cyclone Gita Banana Recovery Programme.
“The Cyclone recovery action play is in line with the arrival of thirty thousand imported banana suckers scientifically developed in Israel and commercialised by a company in South Africa.”
“The consignment is being distributed evenly with 15-thousand for Upolu farmers and the rest for Savai’i banana growers,” the Minister said.
The latest shipment is funded by Pacific Horticultural, Agricultural Market Access Programme (P.H.A.M.A.).
Funded by Australia, P.H.A.M.A. works with the public and private sectors to promote Pacific exports of primary and value added produce by helping exporters to meet trading partners’ regulatory requirements and quality standards
Prior to launching the Banana Export Strategy, Lopao’o has been flexing his political muscles urging New Zealand officials to re-open banana exports for Samoa.
And the Israeli banana variety which has a proven track record as one of the best in the world, provided leverage that help convinced New Zealand to grant the green light for banana exports from Samoa.
“The main reason for Israel doing so well in agriculture is that almost 90 per cent of their technologies targets not only targets food security but disease resistant,” said Lopao’o. “The Israeli bananas are also field-oriented and aimed at helping farmers earn more.”
To capitalise on the new export door, the Cyclone Gita recovery programme is concentrating on banana growers with the resources to meet the requirements that M.A.F. and authorities and the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries have agreed upon.
The breakthrough for local banana growers comes after a long hiatus since Samoa stopped exporting fresh bananas to New Zealand because of issues concerning pests and diseases as well as inconsistencies with supplies.
In the past two years, M.A.F. have been in discussions with the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries through its bilateral Quarantine Agreement meetings with an outcome that will see Samoa’s banana exports developing and growing again, but under strict import bio security requirements from New Zealand.
One requirement is for New Zealand officials from the Ministry of Primary Industries to conduct audit visits of both pathways and will work closely with the M.A.F. as part of the Bilateral Quarantine Agreement within one and a half years of trade commencement.
“The banana market in New Zealand is huge and our Ministry will support our banana growers and exporters to penetrate it and ensure sustainability of quality and supply, and most of all ensure compliance to New Zealand’s biosecurity requirements,” said M.A.F’s Chief Executive Officer, Tilafono David Hunter.
“With our strong support provided to our recently established banana association of 35 registered members, which may expand subject to interest shown for this market opportunity, our Quarantine Services will be stringent in the monitoring of the compliance by our banana growers and exporters as per our agreed production, postharvest handling, packaging, and labelling with New Zealand M.P.I.”
“It is important for all our farmers and exporters to remember that New Zealand Biosecurity is not negotiable, period,” he said.
“And when we are given their blessings in terms of market access for our agricultural produce/products after long periods of negotiations, everyone has to play their respective roles to ensure that we don’t destroy it. Not just our Ministry.”
“In short, if some of our banana growers and exporters don’t comply then our Quarantine Services will not issue relevant biosecurity export documentations,” said Tilafono. “But our Minister and Ministry are confident that we will succeed, given the skills and experience of the highly distinguished members of the banana association and we will be on standby to play our role and support them as per our mandate.”
Through the re-commencement of export bananas and plantains in New Zealand, Samoa is the first country in the Pacific to have a Commodity Export Plan approved under the Ministry of Primary Industries’ update Import Health Standards system.