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Ulu Summit: Creating breadfruit export hub in American Samoa

The Office of the Governor is planning on hosting an Ulu Summit on December 5-6 in American Samoa. The Summit, awaiting final support confirmation by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, will lay the foundation to expand the vision of Gov. Togiola Tulafono to make American Samoa the hub for exports that will now include agricultural food manufacturing and the establishment of a new food processing industry for US markets.

Coupled with the Tri-Marine goal of being a regional tuna processing hub in the Pacific operating out of American Samoa, this move will expand the export base to include agriculture, manufacturing and processed products for export as a compelling consideration.

Papalii Dr. Tusi Avegalio, Director of the University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program assisting the Office of the Governor and Department of Commerce with the summit and its goals, reiterated the significance of the summit shared by many of the enthusiastic invitees and potential partners. 

“The opportunity to develop and establish a new food manufacturing and export industry in American Samoa creates jobs, new opportunities for business, stimulates economic growth and enhances the role of American Samoa in contributing to Pacific regional collaboration, stability and peace through economic opportunity,” he stated. “It’s creating the future with actions in the present.”

The Summit will bring together local, regional, national and international experts.  Invitees include leading tropical agricultural scientists, food processing and manufacturing engineers, product development, marketing and distribution experts as well as representatives from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the U. S. Department of the Interior Office of Insular Affairs, Secretariat of Pacific Countries and United Nations Development Program. 

A key presenter is Dr. Diane Ragone, of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) on Kauai and associate of the University of Hawaii. Dr. Regone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute at the NTBG, is the foremost expert in the world on the different varieties of breadfruit and a global advocate for its use to feed the world’s hungry.

Also attending the Summit will be Dr. Susan Murch, professor at the University of British Columbia.  Dr. Murch will describe her newly developed technique for mass-producing breadfruit trees making it possible to dramatically increase the production of breadfruit throughout the Pacific.  Her research has important implications not only for addressing food security worldwide but also for creating the resource base for a breadfruit industry in the Pacific.

A key component at the Summit will be representatives from FoodSource, a C.H. Robinson company. C.H. Robinson is one of the largest food distributors in the world. The attending executives will provide a presentation on FoodSource’s operations and logistics capabilities within the highly complex food products industry.  Their knowledge will provide expertise from the manufacturer to their national networks serving customers.

FoodSource's interest in breadfruit is the result of the rapidly growing demand for gluten free products: Wal-Mart and Whole Foods sell hundreds of gluten free items in their stores.  Recent research at the University of Hawaii suggests that breadfruit is uniquely constituted to be an important source of gluten free flour that can be used in a wide range of bakery products.

Officials of the University of Hawaii National Disaster Preparedness Training Center Program and FEMA officials past and present involved during the 2009 Tsunami Disaster in Am Samoa will share food security and business preparedness expertise for the Pacific with an emphasis on the importance of local and regional agricultural development and sustainability, food manufacturing and storage, and business preparedness.  

Lelei Peau, Department of Commerce Director stated, “By bringing all of this research expertise, food engineering & manufacturing technical capacity, market experience and food security strategies together, the Summit seeks to lay a network of partnerships that connects the breadfruit producing nations in the Pacific to the research and technical capacity of university centers and development organizations in the nation and region, to establish an agricultural food manufacturing and export industry in American Samoa”.

He further pointed out that with manufacturing and export from American Samoa, Ulu and associated food products can gain access to the marketing and distribution network of the specialty foods industry in the U.S. and beyond.

Organizers expect that by following the model established by the tuna industry, Pago Pago will have an important place in this partnership as a unique duty-free, tax-free gateway to the U.S. market for breadfruit flour and other breadfruit products manufactured in American Samoa. 

Since Tutuila has a total land area of only 76.1 square miles and two thirds of it is mountainous, the agricultural land available for increasing the production of breadfruit is insufficient for supporting a new breadfruit industry.  Consequently, partnering with its Pacific Island neighbors that do have substantial agricultural land capacity is essential.  Such a partnership, though, benefits not only American Samoa but also all of the breadfruit exporting states such as Samoa and Fiji and Tonga that currently only have a limited market for fresh breadfruit in New Zealand and Australia.

Ministers of Agriculture from Independent Samoa, Tonga and Fiji in addition to Ministers/Directors from the US Freely Associated States, Republic, Commonwealth and Territories are expected to attend. Interest as far as Indonesia has also been expressed and invitations are being extended.

As a measure of the weight and importance being given to the Summit by the U.S. government, two Assistant Secretaries, one from the US Department of the Interior and the other from the US Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration, or designees as well as the State Department Charge d’Affairs of the US Embassy in Independent Samoa are also expected, schedules permitting, to attend the Summit.

Future articles will feature the visiting regional, international and national officials, scientists and private sector participants and their roles as the Summit date draws nearer.

SIDE BAR

Samoa News also understands there is viable interest in developing an American Samoa hub for the export of ‘koko’, similar to the one described above for breadfruit. An off-island company has sent officials to scout out the lay of the land with Samoa also included in the scope of business review.

Notice also in this web issue the linked story from the Samoa Observer about Coconut Revivial talks going on in Samoa.

Source: University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center



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