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DOC spearheads assessment of Aunu'u's economy

The Commerce Department is leading the government initiative to assess the economic development needs for Aunu’u, the first known type of economic development assessment for the island-village, whose economic base is dependent mostly on taro plantations. 


According to a DOC news release, the move comes amid the success of the governor’s Adopt-A-School initiative which not only forged partnerships between ASG agencies and the Department of Education but has also brought together ASG agencies to determine sustainable economic development opportunities in Aunu’u.


 Hand in hand with the Aunu’u village council, DOC is leading the project to “assess the needs for planned use development and economic village based initiatives” which engages all stakeholders with the ASG agencies to provide meaningful actionable plans in Aunu’u.


“This model of collaboration will be replicated in Ta’u, inclusive in their development plan,” said DOC, whose Adopt-a-School is A.P. Lutali Elementary School on Aunu’u.


“Aunu’u and Manu’a islands present different challenges and assessment of needs that require dialogue and commitment not just by the ASG agencies but also in partnership with the villages and village councils,” said DOC director Keniseli Lafaele.


Acting territorial planner Liné-Noue Kruse authored several Department of Interior grant proposals that were awarded to ASG, and one grant is now funding the work that is being done in Aunu’u, and will be implemented in Manu’a.


Lafaele said the work in Aunu’u is in progress and there is much to be done, but a great deal has already been accomplished with the partnerships in Aunu’u and amongst ASG agencies.


“Sustainable economic development projects must be pursued with the village council in order to solve these challenges,” he said. “This ASG partnership with the Aunu’u village focusing on economic and land development has quickly materialized into realistic yet constructive dialogue of what is possible in Aunu’u.”


Lafaele and his staff,  along with Tafuna Industrial Park manager Misipati Salanoa, Liné-Noue Kruse, University of Hawai’i professor of planning and architect Dr. Luciano Minerbi, project lead Leifiloa Carol, and GIS technician Kang Sevao (Aunu’u resident) have met with Aunu'u Rep. Talaimatai Elisara Su’a, Aunu’u mayor Aleaga Nili, and the village council “to solidify this partnership, expected outputs, and goals of this work in Aunu’u which has already produced a report from the village council to DOC on the needs and economic opportunities in Aunu'u.


Director of Education Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau authorized a space at the A.P. Lutali Elementary for the DOC to work closely with the Adopt-A-School program and to coordinate and implement economic initiatives in Aunu’u.


“It is the intention of the DOC to engage administrators, teachers and students of A.P. Lutali Elementary in shaping the outcome of the economic development of their community,” said Lafaele.


DOC said it sought out ASG intra-agency collaboration on what implementation framework will be needed to address economic opportunities in Manu'a as well as address economic initiatives in Aunu’u to further the project.


ASPA Executive Director Utu Abe Malae, ASEPA director Ameko Pato, DPW director Faleosina Voigt, and ASHPO director David Herdrich are collaborators on the project to assess  economic and land opportunities in Aunu’u.


ASG’s team that was present during a site visit last Wednesday with Rep. Talaimatai included Pato, ASEPA Deputy Director Fa’amao Asalele, water specialist Casuallen Fale, ASPA water division manager Taylor Savusa, and water chief operator Danielle Meleah.


The site visit explored what challenges and opportunities exist to develop any desired sector by the village council in coordination with DOC.


Historically, said DOC,  the two main sources of economic activity for the Aunu’u people for the last fifty years are taro and making “faausi”, a Samoan food item, which is made of taro (or tapioka).


(Samoa News should point out that not mentioned in the media release is the "special" taro Aunu'u is historical known for — a dark purplish taro, grown in Aunu'u's  swamp area — which many 'old timers' describe as having the smooth texture when eaten of "pulukamu" or "bubble gum", while still tasting like taro or tapioca.)


DOC said the Aunu’u village council submitted to to them their economic development challenges, identifying agriculture as a challenging sector to advance. “The two main challenges identified is the declining motivation for young men and women to work the taro plantation and the fau tree invasion on the taro plantation,” said DOC.


 Adding to the challenges of agricultural production is the belief that there is a disease affecting the taro plantations and possible leaching of lead from the scrap metal in the landfill that is hurting the tilapia.


The identified prioritized needs for the island are an elementary school van, passenger vessel, health clinic, cement road around the entire island connected to their evacuation routes, and fortified sea wall from the wharf to the A.P Lutali Elementary school.


DOC said it has already moved on the agricultural segment of economic opportunity by developing zoning maps by Kruse and Minerbi to recommend zonation that will demarcate the existing urban area from the areas of conservation and agriculture to ensure longevity to any agriculture intensification program. 


Coastal zone manager Sandra Lutu is sending GIS technicians Kang Sevao and Robert Koch to conduct GPS mapping of the agricultural lands and urban areas to survey how much lands are actually being farmed for agricultural purposes and what lands are then left for possible intensification of taro, mango, moli, pineapple, banana, peas, cucumber, and pumpkin. 


The GPS mapping will assist the village, DOC, and other ASG agencies to understand what is currently being farmed and used for family consumption, thereby ensuring food security for the island and what lands are available for intensification of commercial export. 


The existing taro cultivation is currently being done on communal lands which the communities must identify human resources that exist on island to commit to agricultural intensification programs.