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Agriculture in Samoa: changing farmers mindset is only one part of the solution

Samoa’s underperforming agriculture continues to invite comment and prescription. When giving the keynote address at the USP Economic Dialogue at Alafua Campus two or so weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Fonotoe Pierre suggested among other things that what was needed to raise agricultural productivity was a changed mindset by Samoan farmers. Referring to the economic transformation that took place in the economies of Japan and Korea, Honorable Fonotoe stated that “We seem to be faced with a challenge of farmers who are hesitant to change their mindset into new innovative methods of agriculture.”The need for a changed approach to agriculture in Samoa has long been recognised. But it is not farmers who have stood in the way of change. Take for example the Fruit and Vegetable Sector Strategy 2009-2015 (F&V Strategy), an initiative of the International Trade Center (ITC) with EU funding and farmer participation. The strategy was designed to promote and sustain the kind of change Honorable Fonotoe referred to, in the growing, marketing and processing of fruits and vegetables in Samoa. The plan had everything, including the participation and eager support of farmers. But it never received the funding and institutional support needed for its effective implementation. Only government and, in Samoa’s case, donors can muster this kind of support, and it never arrived.Then there is the current Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project (SACEP) 2012-1017 (or World Bank loan project), an offshoot of the F&V Strategy. Opened officially in June 2012 after months of consultations and planning with farmer involvement, the plan appears today to be totally mired in red tape. Farmers have played their part and have completed the tedious application and training process, and now they wait and wait again. Eighteen months after the project launch and lavish official promises of help for farmers, the only moneys disbursed to date have been to buy the Ministry of Agriculture’s fleet of ten new vehicles.The Agriculture Sector Plan 2011-2015 is an even more comprehensive blueprint to “revitalize the agriculture sector to increase its relative contribution to the national GDP from its current level of 10% to 20% by 2015”. The plan, like the F&V Strategy, sets out in detail the institutional and funding requirements to make this happen. Like the F&V Strategy, it was also not a government initiative. Donor support was behind the plan, while farmers once again played their part in the planning process. Today, farms continue to farm under their own steam and sweat as they wait yet again for the slow machinery of officialdom to grind on interminably.The plan is almost halfway through its five year life span. But with many of the key building blocks and institutional support still to be put in place, the chances of its lofty objectives being achieved are not bright.