Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Agriculture Department director, Filifaatali Mike Fuiava, revealed during his department’s fiscal year 2019 budget hearing last week that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved $500,000 to American Samoa for farms damaged as a result of Tropical Storm Gita early this year.
Rep. Fialupe Fiaui Lutu asked during the hearing if there is any help for farmers who submitted reports of damage to their farms following the storm, as farmers are still waiting for word from the government.
Filifaatali responded that “half a million dollars” has been approved and the local government is now working on ways to distribute this money in accordance with federal guidelines.
Also, during the hearing House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, inquired about taro varieties available on island as some of them, such as ‘Talo Niue’ — which is an excellent variety — is no longer available here. He also says that he has heard of other new taro varieties on island such as “Talo Voli”.
Responding, Filifaatali revealed that DoA is in discussions with the Niue government for their taro varieties for planting in the territory. He also said that another variety “Talo Manu’a”, is only in the Manu’a islands. He then reminded lawmakers that taro grown on Aunu’u is still of high quality.
(Samoa News notes that many residents enjoy taro from Aunu’u and is very popular when someone is selling “fa’ausi” — a rich Samoan dish of taro baked in the ‘umu — using Aunu’u grown taro.)
Questions were also raised by the committee as to why DoA no longer provides chemicals and fertilizers as it has done in the past, to which Filifaatali responded that DOA had discontinued this service a while back before he took over the directorship post, and that local businesses are selling chemicals and fertilizers.
The committee noted that there is a farming subsidy listed in the FY 2019 budget under the Governor’s Special Programs category. Additionally, the cost of chemicals, fertilizers and animal feed sold by the private sector is too high and not affordable by many farmers.
According to the FY 2019 budget document, $100,000 is allocated for a farming subsidy and farmers and the government will collaborate to define agricultural activities eligible for the subsidy. It also says that the subsidy is an “incentive scheme” to encourage people to farm different agricultural cash crops and produce, in order to reduce the territory’s dependence on imported goods.
(Samoa News should point out that pig feed was also subsidized at one time but was discontinued due to no funding.)
CHIEF ELECTION OFFICER MAINTAINS OPINION — DON’T ELECT SENATORS
When asked early this week during the Election Office fiscal year 2019 budget hearing, Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei responded that he continues to maintain his opinion, which was stated in the past, that senators should not be elected to the Senate.
He said he still believes in the current system, in which senators are selected by their respective counties in accordance with the Fa’asamoa.
With that statement, came another question from the committee, asked by Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, “Do you encourage people to run” for public office if they come to the Election Office. Uiagalelei responded that “we talk to them about their rights … to run for office.”
Uiagalelei then reminded candidates — including faipule seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 midterm election — that 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 is the deadline to file papers with the Election Office. And as of early this week more than 56 petitions have been submitted for the election, he said.
Aside from its annual budget, the Election Office gets a separate funding allocation under the Governor’s Special Program category. For FY 2019, the amount is $100,000 to assist the Election Office to cover this year’s general election operation and preparation, as well as election outreach program activities, according to the budget document.
These activities include transportation to and from Manu’a, efforts and attempts to register all eligible voters on and off-island, any personnel costs related to these activities and other public awareness programs to promote the individual’s right to vote.