Am. Samoa at USDA Expo
American Samoa was one of the groups represented at the first U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dried Fruit Expo in Washington, D.C.,on Nov. 16, 2017.
This was also the first effort by American Samoa to introduce tropical fruit products to the USDA. The event provided an opportunity to showcase American Samoa to the USDA and to draw attention to the diversity of people who can be served in a very tangible way, while complementing USDA Food Programs, including school lunch feeding, humanitarian feeding, armed forces, international aid, and dozens of other areas, in which U.S. produced foodstuff are purchased and promoted at home and around the world.
Rep. Su’a Alexander E. Jennings, who is also the Chairman of the Forestry, Agriculture and Marine Resources Committee, made a presentation to a group that included key U.S. government staff, describing the possibilities and potential for breadfruit and banana flours grown and made in American Samoa.
“This was an important opportunity to communicate that American Samoa has innovative tropical products starting with banana and breadfruit flours,” said Jennings.
While on a visit to American Samoa in July 2017, Tom Payne of California, an industry specialist for over 23 years, attended the opening of the 2nd Session of the 35th Legislature and met Jennings. At their initial meeting, Jennings showed Payne some local products. Payne thought there could be possibilities, and Payne and Jennings have been communicating ever since.
At the USDA gathering on Nov. 16, 2017, Payne introduced Jennings to the group. Wearing a traditional Samoan ie faitaga while holding a to’oto’o (orator’s stick) and fue (orator's attire) over his shoulder, Jennings introduced the crowd to the Samoan culture and spoke about the opportunities for Samoan tropical crops like breadfruit and banana flours.
The to’oto’o and fue were especially meaningful because they were provided by Nikolao Pula, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) of the U.S. Department of the Interior. These precious emblems of authority had belonged to the late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who was a great supporter and friend of American Samoa.
They had been passed on to Mr. Pula, who served as an intern for Senator Inouye when Pula first started in federal government.
The American Samoa exhibit attracted a continual stream of visitors who wanted to learn more about the territory and possibilities for sourcing of tropical dried fruits. The gathering was by invitation only and brought together 10 co-operator groups that sell or are interested in selling dried fruits to the USDA.
The trade show provided an excellent opportunity to present breadfruit and banana flours and to show the potential for Samoan koko (chocolate). Samples of breadfruit flour, banana flour, and pancake mix were provided along with specially made products for tasting. Jennings also had packets of information on American Samoa, including a map showing where the territory is located in the Pacific.
Undersecretary of Agriculture Greg Ibach and Chief of Staff, Dudley Hoskins, Marketing and Regulatory Programs of USDA, visited the American Samoa tabletop. USDA staff are instrumental in the decision-making process on which items are purchased and which items are put on the products' availability list, which go to schools for their purchase.
Two key groups in the process are from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Food Nutrition Service (FNS).
Ibach visited the American Samoa exhibit and was delighted to see American Samoa participating in this important event.
USDA AND SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM
The USDA is an important buyer of foods for the National School Lunch Program, which provides school meals to children across the U.S. and territories. The FY2018 USDA foods budget is $2.27 billion. Of that total the Child Nutrition Program makes up 74%. USDA provides cash reimbursement for meals served in schools and also Entitlement funding, known as USDA Foods. Entitlement funding makes up 15 to 20% of the foods served in school cafeterias across the country.
America’s food industry vies for a piece of the USDA pie designated as Entitlement funding. USDA school lunch buys are an important part of agricultural stabilization in the USA and industries such as USA produced apples, raisins, figs, dried plums, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, and others, all sell substantial volumes of product to the USDA each year for distribution to states and territories for school lunch and other products.
Besides commodity buys for schools, the USDA also implements innovative programs such as farm-to market local sourcing and other innovative initiatives to help link children to agriculture. While American Samoa may currently be a recipient of USDA foods, there are opportunities for tropical dried fruits such as banana and breadfruit for local use as well as distribution around the nation. All products sourced in the USDA Foods Program must be produced in the USA by law.