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‘Food security’ after Gita

A breadfruit tree standing with a lot of damage to its fruit and leaves caused by Tropical Storm Gita last weekend. Concerns about food security have caused the Department of Agriculture to put two teams on the ground to do assessments about crop damages from the storm. [photo by AF]

While the main focus of Tropical Storm Gita recovery efforts are on water and power, damaged houses and lost homes — with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the ground doing assessments — the devastation to agriculture crops could actually be one of the biggest problems Gita has created in the local community.

Samoa News was able to communicate with several local farmers and they are highlighting the problem our people will be facing, because of the damage to local crops — saying to prepare for a ‘famine’.

In the meantime, Samoa News spoke to the Department of Agriculture Director, Filifa’atali Michael Fuiava about this issue, and he stated that his department has sent out two teams to do assessments of the crop damage, and a report will be finalized and forwarded to FEMA for possible assistance.

According to Filifa’atali, their main focus is food security.

 “Our two teams have been out in the field since Monday morning to do our assessment on the possible crop damage caused by Gita. We will assess all farms and plantations on the island, not only those who have big plantations, but also those families who have two or five bananas behind the house. Once we complete our assessment, then a report will be put together for our final review,” he said.

The DoA director says they are also communicating with all of the local importers, to ask them about what is left in storage, and whether they are expecting any shipments of vegetables and crops from off-island, and how long what they have right now will last.

“We want to know exactly what is left for us right now and a few months ahead. Once we have all that information, we will then prepare our final report and forward it to the FEMA for them to look at it and consider possible assistance for us,” Filifa’atali concluded.

Local farmers, who not only feed their families with what they grow, but also sell their crops, are concerned about the long term affects of the crop damages on the community.

Filiga Amituana’i, a 58-year-old farmer from Pava’ia’i, who was selling at the Fagatogo market this week said that American Samoa should prepare for a famine, especially since Gita has destroyed breadfruit trees which helped farmers feed the island.

Amituana’i compared Tropical Storm Gita to Cyclone Ofa and Cyclone Valelia (Val) back in the 1990s, saying that after the island experienced these strong cyclones almost 30 years ago people faced a famine that lasted almost a year because Ofa and Val destroyed all the plantations and breadfruit trees.

“Looking at our plantation, the banana patch, the taro and the breadfruit are all gone, and we have to replant some new bananas and taro as soon as possible so we can have some food in another 6 months or more,” said Mikaele.

Another local farmer, Valoaga Aleki, a 63-year-old from Tafuna shared the same thoughts about a possible famine on island, and said his whole plantation was destroyed by Gita, including bananas, breadfruit and taro.

“There’s nothing we can do to avoid this type of situation, when it’s called from God, there’s nothing we can do,” said the frustrated farmer who worked hard for his plantation to feed his family and serve his church and village.

“This is my life,” pointing his finger to his plantation. “I worked hard for this, but when God speaks to us through the Nature He made, who are we, to try to question God’s almighty power. All I’m asking is for everyone who can plant bananas or taro behind their home to please, start planting some bananas and taro now, so that we can have food for us in the next 5 months or so.”

Valoaga said that no electricity is not a big issue to him, but when there is no water and food, “that’s when we have a problem, so we have to prepare for a possible famine coming up for us, and I know that our people will do everything they can through the help of our Lord to assist our island and provide for our needs.”

A landowner, who leases land to a produce farmer, told Samoa News that the farmer lost all his plantings, including the house he was staying in while farming the land; and says it will take the farmer maybe up to three months to grow produce — Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, green onions, etc. — ready to be sold again. The farmer, according to the landowner, was living off the proceeds from the plantation, and wonders if federal assistance will be extended to the farmers, while they are recovering from crop losses.

It’s also unknown at this time if hydroponic farmers also suffered losses — time will tell if local produce is not seen for sale in the stores, and instead only the more expensive airfreight produce is available.