The Chairman of the Samoa Farmers Association, Afamasaga Tole'afoa, says so far none of their requests for assistance have been approved.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Afamasaga Tole'afoa, chairman, Samoa Farmers Association,
TOLE'AFOA: I suppose a number of reasons, straight after the cyclone, there was a lot of relief assistance and they did receive some assistance from that kind of relief operations, but they are one off and still there's a number of little programs going on. They're mainly focused at relief and they're not the long term types of programs that will help to do the recovery, long term recovery that's required. So I think that's the situation. I have to be careful here. Some assistance has been received, relief assistance, but what the farmers wanted and there have been a number schemes put in place, some before the cyclone, for recovery of the Samoa agricultural sector, which has been very depressed and underperforming for a number of years. I guess that's really what I was speaking about.
EWART: Can I ask does that mean therefore, what has happened here, if you like, is that there was already an existing problem that needed to be addressed. The cyclone came along, the government address that immediate problem and the long term problem is still there?
TOLE'AFO: Yeah, absolutely, that's really the issue. Samoan agriculture has been underperforming, in fact in decline for decades, due to a number of reasons. The global economy, the market economies opening and markets became more competitive, pest and diseases came in and the agricultural sector had to readjust and to the new realities of markets etc. That program is an ongoing and long term program which really needs to be carried out and that's the real challenge in agriculture in Samoa at moment.
EWART: So in essence, then the cyclone was a disaster in more ways than one, because it really took people's eye of the ball?
TOLE'AFO: Yes, absolutely. The focus became relief and relief operations were carried out and some continuing at the village level.
The challenge of economies like Samoa, and in this case, we're talking about agriculture is to move from what used to be a subsistence or semi-subsistent method of production and approach the farming to a more commercially oriented, so that it can be competitive in today's economy and be able to export and compete against other economies and other producers. That's a real challenge and that's the challenge that needs to be addressed and really what I was speaking about. And there's been a number of initiatives taken. One of them was a program, a World Bank loan, so that farmers can borrow money to become more commercially orientated, that's after three or four years of planning and consultations. The farmers still haven't seen the results of that. I suppose that's what I was talking about.
EWART: Can I ask therefore, I mean are you satisfied that the government has a grasp of this situation, that they realise that whilst the immediate problems of a year ago may have been dealt with, that they can't stop there?
TOLE'AFO: You know, sure and that's the concern. We're not really sure whether the officialdom or the government and the officials, in particularly the Ministry of Agriculture is really focused on that and whether they're planning fully appreciates that need for a sustained support for farmers to be able to do the kind of transformation I'm talking about, to move from subsistence, semi-subsistent agriculture to a more commercially-orientated and to be competitive, otherwise it will never happen. Agriculture will continue to decline as it has Samoan agriculture I'm talking about, in the last decades.