Efforts under way to revive Samoa's coffee industry | Pacific Beat

Efforts under way to revive Samoa's coffee industry

Efforts under way to revive Samoa's coffee industry

Updated 25 June 2012, 12:08 AEST

When Australian Nationals Senator John Williams travelled to Samoa for a Christmas break last year, he was struck by two things.

The first was the high level of unemployment, and the second was the amount of land available for farming.

Since that trip he has teamed up with Nabi Saleh, founder of the Gloria Jeans coffee franchise, to revive Samoa's coffee bean industry.

The aim is to provide agriculture jobs and business for Samoans.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: John Williams, Australian Nationals senator

WILLIAMS: Went there for Christmas last year, love Samoa, love the people and my wife and I had a wonderful time. And we actually went around for a four or five hour drive with Palusalue, the opposition leader. And I said to Palu what are you doing with the land and basically Geraldine the land isn't producing much at all. And hence we knew of the high unemployment, we knew of the need of export income required for Samoa. So on return I met up with Nabi Saleh and said to Nabi could you help me help these people? He said yes, gladly.

COUTTS: Now why coffee in particular is it that you're targeting to get Samoans to grow?

WILLIAMS: Well Geraldine about 12 months ago a representative from a major coffee firm had approached me saying look they were concerned about the supply of coffee, the world population growing, and of course the climate there in Samoa is perfect for growing coffee, and now that we've seen the land, the good basalt soil, it's sort of all adding up to a huge potential to be a big producer of coffee.

COUTTS: And there's a bit of a story attached to the coffee because the little coffee that they have been growing in Samoa was originally brought there by Germany when they took over some parts of Samoa way back when?

WILLIAMS: Yes back in about the 1930s I think Geraldine when the coffee was first taken there from Germany, and this is what we found. We took an expert there (words indistinct) who's job is establishing these industries with the new varieties and modern technology. And he was saying look the variety's too old so we sat down with the Minister of Agriculture and the Deputy Prime Minister and said look, you're meaning well, you're doing your best, but there are far newer types of varieties of coffee that produce a lot more, that can be trimmed and are resistant to the cyclones etc.. So certainly I learned a lot on the trip as well Geraldine being a farmer in Australia, I didn't know anything about coffee. But the potential is huge and we hope to go back there in six months time, we're just waiting for reports to be put through now to help them establish say 50 hectares of a plot to show the Samoans about the new varieties and the way they can yield and the potential they actually have.

COUTTS: Now will you be seeking AusAid funding for the project?

WILLIAMS: Well I'll be talking to Senator Bob Carr today. I'll sort of hunt him up in the chamber and tell him what I've been up to, because Senator Carr was away last week as the Foreign Minister, and I'll say to him I believe there's a million dollars a year for five years going into Samoa to plant trees in national parks, and I'd like to see some of that diverted to helping the industries get on their feet in Samoa so they can earn more money for their country and look after the environment better.

COUTTS: Now you've been critical of the way AusAid goes about its funding, that was a comment you made in a local interview on the ABC. What in particular is it that you are unhappy with?

WILLIAMS: Well when you've got Samoa Geraldine with a one-point-three-billion dollar GDP that owes nearly a billion dollars, they need export income and unless you have money you can't look after anything, whether it be the environment or the people. And I think a million dollars a year into planting trees that will not provide any exports in a national park. So I think the priority needs to be changed to get the Samoans sort of more on their feet with export income, better living standards for them and then they'll have the money to look after the environment even better.

COUTTS: Well a lot of the AusAid money is of course going into environment programs so it's probably not politic at the moment to divert money out of the environmental programs into agriculture at this stage?

WILLIAMS: Well AusAid is a great program but it is what it is, Australian aid for overseas and surely some of that aid must be helping to establish industries in those countries where they can grow their industries, grow their exports, and actually raise their standard of living.

COUTTS: And what about the Samoans themselves, are they into growing coffee?

WILLIAMS: Very much so and lovely people and we had to give some of the politicians the bad news first saying look your variety's back in the 1930s, you're farming in the 1930s instead of the 21st century, and luckily through experts like Nabi Saleh and (?Kristoff), they listened and they said oh, we see where we are now and the people over there who do the soil testing and the people in the laboratories they were very, very good. I think the just need to be brought up to date a bit more and they'll be very successful at what they do. I think their work ethic is good and their attitude is excellent.

COUTTS: Did you say 50 hectares, I mean it's not very much is it, it's a bit of a test drive at this stage?

WILLIAMS: Well that's right but 50 hectares after three years managed right will return two tonnes to the hectare of coffee, which is a lot of money Geraldine, and we'd like to do some up in the higher country, Arabica up in the higher country, not only the robusta in the lower country, but sort of get these types going, show the locals how much you can really make out of growing coffee, because there's been a stimulus package by the government that will pay basically a Samoan farmer 200 Australian dollars to plant two acres of coffee. They've gone and done that but it's the old style coffee. And the stimulus package I believe could be spent better getting into new modern era of new varieties and much heavier yielding crops, it'll be so much more beneficial for the people there.

COUTTS: Will this be targeted for export because it's a pretty tough industry already isn't it?

WILLIAMS: Well it is, but look Nabi Saleh was telling me about the worst price you ever see is around two-dollars-20 a pound for coffee beans green on the world market, and up to the three-dollars-80 a pound. That's still a fair bit of money, of course it's very labour intensive but what we'd like to do is first of all get the industry growing the new varieties and producing more and then look at processing plants, and look at Samoa selling the finished product. So they make the money all the way through the chain.

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