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Procurement should seek a waiver to allow more produce to be sold to SLP, says senator

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i  [SN file photo]

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i has suggested that the Procurement Office seek a waiver from the US Department of Agriculture that would allow farmers to sell more pounds of their produce — especially taros and bananas — to the federally funded school lunch program, administered locally by the Department of Education.

Many local farmers have complained for more than a year about the new policy implemented by the Procurement Office, where contracts to supply SLP produce must go through a bidding process.

Farmers have taken their complaints to the Governor’s Office as well as lawmakers, and Samoa News understands that part of the complaints involve who the DoA has certified as brokers to qualify for the bidding process. Some farmers are saying that the brokers are not farmers and do not even own farms.

During her Senate confirmation hearing last Friday, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, who is also a farmer, sought an explanation from Chief Procurement Officer, Dr. Oreta Mapu Crichton regarding the bidding process for local produce for the school lunch program.

Crichton explained that when she took over the leadership post in 2015, it was the same time the USDA, the federal grantor for the program, issued a notice that there should be a bidding process, “so that it’s fair and competitive.”

The Procurement Office then conducted the bidding process and farmers were informed to register his/her name, what produce they wanted to provide and the cost. Crichton said that the Agriculture Department certifies these farmers.

Additionally, the total amount of pounds for delivery to school lunch is set by Agriculture (which certifies the farms) and the Education Department, which then spreads the pounds among the farmers who get the contracts.

However, Magalei says the USDA requirement is based on a “commercial farmer” in the US and that is not the case in American Samoa, where many farmers have less than an acre of land for their farms.

The Tualatua senator recommended to Crichton that Procurement and DoA look at seeking a waiver from USDA for American Samoa pertaining to its stringent requirements that are preventing local farmers from selling their produce to the school lunch.

He reminded Crichton that for some farmers, farming is their only income.

Magalei said there is now so much agriculture produce being sold at the Fagatogo Market Place as well as in stalls along the road, as farmers are not getting much financial support through the SLP.

He also said that foreigners operate many of the vegetable farms and Samoan farmers are now depending on taro and bananas for their income. He said people in the U.S. don’t understand that American Samoa is a remote territory and some of their restrictions and regulations have an impact on the local community.

The senator believes that if the feds fully understood the local situation, a waiver could be granted, but it will take local government officials giving a thorough explanation to the federal grantor.

Magalei, said he is not worried for himself as a farmer, but for the others, who depend on this for a living.

During his Senate confirmation hearing more than a week ago, Agriculture Director Filifa’atali Michael Fuiava was advised by Magalei to take care of the local farmers when it comes to the produce they could provide SLP.

Magalei said that pounds now accepted for the federally funded program are much lower than years ago because of new federal guidelines. He said the US, with many large farmers, should not be compared to a small territory like American Samoa. He also recalled years ago, DoA was considered a “broker” for farmers, who depend on their farms for a living.