Department of Agriculture proposes legislation to aid local farmers
The Department of Agriculture is proposing legislation that would again provide a government subsidy to assist local farmers with expenses associated with farming, says Agriculture director Lealao Melila Purcell.
Veteran farmer Taimane Johnson has been the outspoken voice for local farmers, calling on the government for the last couple of years to reinstate this subsidy program which helps farmers purchase things such as fertilizer and small equipment to improve their plantations.
Faced with budget constraints over the years, the government dropped from the annual budget allocation funding for the farmer’s subsidy program, wherein the government would pay 50% while farmers paid the other half for these products, some of which are housed at the DOA, including fertilizers, authorized chemicals and small farming equipment, such as shovels.
Before departing the territory last Thursday for an off-island meeting, Lealao explained to Samoa News that a written recommendation was submitted to, and accepted recently by Gov. Togiola Tulafono to reinstate the farmer’s subsidy, with a proposed appropriation measure to be submitted to the Fono when lawmakers return in July for the 4th Regular Session.
“This subsidy program was of great help to local farmers years ago,” said Lealao, who was asked by lawmakers during his confirmation hearing two months ago to revisit this subsidy program for farmers on Tutuila as well as Manu’a.
Lealao says the governor gave his approval last week for bringing into the territory a container of fertilizer and other items that will be of great help to local farmers.
Lealao says one of the department’s goals is to help local farmers improve economic development with more produce in the territory. Part of this government support for local farmers will be seen at the Farmer’s Fair set for July 27 and 28, an event to showcase not only locally grown produce but also handicrafts and cooked food.
Also to be included in this year’s event are fishery products as well as a showcase of local animal farming such as piggeries and chicken farming.
Johnson said the government needs to focus a lot of attention on ways to assist local farmers to further improve farming in American Samoa. She says farmers are currently unable to meet the local demand.
If other Pacific island countries such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are able to assist the development of their farming industry, there is no reason why the government of American Samoa cannot do the same for local farmers, she said.
Johnson, described by Togiola as the Queen of Farmers, said the biggest issue that continues to be faced by farmers is the high cost of fertilizers and authorized chemicals to use for farming purposes as well as seeds.
There are about 200 registered farmers in the territory and these farmers are providing produce for the federally funded school lunch program, administered locally by the Department and Education and selling produce at the Fagatogo Market Place.