Test results are in: Ban on taro from Samoa is lifted
American Samoa has lifted its ban on taro exports from Samoa. During a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee last Friday, Director of the Agriculture Department, Filifa’atali Michael Fuiava confirmed that he already informed the Samoa Prime Minister and the Samoa Minister of Agriculture during the Two Samoa Talks last year that American Samoa is ready to allow taro exports from Samoa this year.
“We’re planning that by the month of March, the taro export from Samoa will be allowed back to American Samoa, and this will be a good news for farmers from our neighboring island Samoa, who have been waiting patiently to bring their taro to sell in our country,” said Filifa’atali who, together with Dr. Kristen Jensen from the Veterinary Clinic and Mark Schmaedick of the Land Grant, appeared before the House Agriculture Committee to testify on issues that were raised by several lawmakers last week.
Some of these issues include the relationship between the Dept. of Agriculture and the Veterinary Clinic; the future of taro in Manu’a; and banning taro exports from Samoa.
TARO FROM SAMOA
Schmaedick confirmed to the committee that they have received from Samoa, the results of tests that were sent to the University of Hawaii, to check on the type of virus that affect the taro in Samoa. Nine samples sent from Apia to the Hawai’i lab tested positive for a virus that affects taro leaves.
Rep. Fagaoatua Dorian Salave’a asked the witness whether this is the same virus that affected the Samoan taro back in the 1990s and Schmaedick said no, this is a totally different virus.
Salave’a expressed concern, saying taro is one of the food that is supplied by local farmers to the School Lunch Program, which is funded by the US-DOE for American Samoa. “I don’t want the taro leaf blight that affected the Samoan taro over twenty years ago to come back to our shores and cause huge damage to our agricultural development.
“I believe your staff has the experience to protect our farmers from experiencing another bad situation,” he told Filifa’atali.
The Agriculture director told the committee that after he received information about the unknown virus breakout in Samoa affecting taro crops on the islands of Upolu and Savai’i, he made the quick move to suspend the importation of all taro and taro shoots from Samoa, for safety reasons.
He said the decision to impose the ban was to avoid another epidemic like the one that struck the islands in 1993-1994.
The ban, Filifa’atali said, was recently lifted based on satisfactory test results provided by the Samoa Ministry of Agriculture.
One of the issues discussed during last Friday's House hearing had to do with the relationship between the Dept. of Agriculture and the Veterinary Clinic, which is under its umbrella.
Manu’a faipule, Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele questioned Filifa’atali about the many changes at the Veterinary Clinic, including the closing of the fence that separates the Veterinary Clinic from the Agriculture premises.
Toeaina said it seems to him that Filifa’atali and his staff are trying to separate the Clinic from them, and the changes gives the Veterinary Clinic staff a hard time in fulfilling their daily work. He also asked Filifa’atali to consider the service of Dr. Kristen Jensen who heads the Veterinary Clinic, and to allow her to continue her service for American Samoa by renewing her contract.
Filifa’atali explained that the reason why his staff locks the fence during holidays and the weekend, is because a lot of people come into the area and he's only trying to protect the government property inside the compound. He said it will cost the government if someone takes those things away.
Filifa’atali acknowledged the great job that Dr. Jensen has done for American Samoa ever since her arrival. “She’s doing a tremendous job for our country, trying to control the population of dogs in American Samoa,” Filifa’atali said.
FUTURE OF TARO IN MANU’A
The future of taro in Manu’a is heading in the right direction, Filifa’atali said, adding his staff in Manu’a is doing a great job by planting different types of taro in both the Luanu’u (Ofu and Olosega/ Sili) and also the Faletolu (Ta’u, Faleasao and Fitiuta).
He told faipule that taro planting in Manu’a continues to grow and hopefully by the middle of this year, people in Tutuila will witness more taro being imported from Manu’a.
He said ever since the taro exports from Samoa were suspended last year, they have noticed a lot of taro in Tutuila. Filifa’atali said this is a good sign for our country, because it proves the point that our local farmers are able to provide taro when there is a need.