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Dear Editor,

Unless the Senators, Faipule’s and DOA Dir. take the farmers emergency crisis more seriously than fa’alifu taro, we can never recover or compete with off island vendors. A budget of $100,000.00 allocated is a drop in the manure bucket.

Tropical Storm Gita (2018) destroyed every farm in American Samoa. Not one penny has been funneled to the local farmers as compensation to help the farmers rebuild. Half a million dollars was approved by ASG but they are still looking for ways to distribute it.

Measles outbreak (9/2019), Tropical Storm Wasi (2/2020), Corona Virus Covid-19 (2019-2020)

Four calamaties back to back have struck and affected American Samoa. Not once did the ASG Agriculture Dept. recognize the local farmers struggles and attempt to assist their emergencies in ruined and destroyed crops, equipment or green houses. It showed at the Fono presentation.

There were lots of data collection for the future, no immediate assistance. Farmers have turned in their numbers as required for TS Gita, yet somewhere along the process, someone dropped the $4 million dollar ball.

Since TS-Gita, farmers have not been given a chance to catch up productivity. They have not received any kind of federal or local relief assistance. All repairs, reconstruction, land clearing, planting, foraging for seeds, taro tops, bananas, root/tubular cuttings etc the farmer had to strive and beg for their plantations. Fertilizers and  chemicals for the banana tops and pest control costs are beyond price control.

There is just a hand full of established farms that can edge through. Sadly the majority of the farmers are the Mom & Pop farms who subsidize and make just enough to feed themselves and provide education for their children.

Way before the 2018 Gita destruction, the Department of Agriculture's infrastructure to assist farmers had collapsed. The farmer cannot produce, when there is no equipment or machinery i.e. banana sprayers, tillers and tractors to turn the soil or clear the land. No seeds, quality taro tops or banana shoots. No fertilizer, safe chemicals, wheel barrels, or basic farming tools. The store to subsidize for the farmer at low cost has not been operational for the past 8 years. It is the local businesses who are selling to include animal feed at their freight costs.

Dept.of Agriculture needs vehicles not SUV’s or ATV’s, for staff to visit the farms for accountability and register production growth.

We need evidence of root, banana and fruit tree varieties to include other animals from other Pacific island countries to be distributed and nurtured for production.

We need them to assist with venues to sell the farmers crop over flow.

We need annual training and safe use and disposal of equipment and chemicals.

We need DOA to do on-spot corrections rather than scapegoating.

Most of all, the ASG Dept. of Agriculture needs to establish their credibility with the farmers, which is below ground zero and fueled with excuses.

It is the sheer will and pride of the farmer that keeps them working their backs and hands to the bones. They are manually hauling, clearing, planting and handling of the farm animals through every emergency disaster to provide for their families and people. They are the first to assess the damage, see how much food they can share and plan for the next crop. All without any assistance from the government.

Farmers have been working on emergency mode with nothing. Blaming them for lack of produce is ignorant. ASG and businesses want to order produce from Upolu and Tonga. The local farmer cannot compete. Businesses are purchasing on the Upolu tala and Tongan paaga, and then repackage and up the selling cost with US currency. Where is the fair trade in undercutting the local farmer and hindering their productivity with a failed agriculture infrastructure?

Farmers need their equipment and machinery upgraded. As it stands farmers are still hauling on their backs.

Every time the schools shut down, the farmers take the full loss on scheduled vegetable and fruit harvests.

The 5th calamity is the Food stamp (2020).

From what I’ve been told, federal assistance from the 2018 Gita aftermath was over $4 million dollars to assist with the Agriculture/ farming infrastructure. Because the ball was dropped through the proposal process, that $4 mil. was given to the DHSS approved by USDA-FNS to increase the ASNAP. It was added  to provide extra supplemental disaster feeding benefits. This extra assistance has contributed to all disaster efforts to implode on an island that is enslaved and engorged by free federal handouts.

Every farmer could have upgraded all their equipment, greenhouses, machinery, tools and expansion with that federal assistance.

DOA is concerned with EPA’s projection on chemical contaminated water 8yrs from now. It alluded to stopping the purchase of all fertilizer and herbicide chemicals. We have until April 2020. Where do farmers turn to without fertilizer. Root crops are different from vegetables. It alluded to bringing in produce from Upolu and Tonga. Mind you their lands are also suffering from diseased soil and use of herbicide chemicals.

During all these disasters and emergencies, the farmers, have not stopped working or producing. Even with loss of manpower and labor, they still pull from the land. When borders are closed, shipping and airfreight stopped, fuel runs dry affecting domestic and businesses utilities, the farmers will continue to produce as well as the piggeries and hatcheries. Farmers do not call in sick. They just want to farm.

All we farmers ask is for the Senate/ Fono to give us one or two years to buildup our farming capacity, as DOA builds up their infrastructure to support food security and  sustainability to bolster the territories economy.

We ask that you reconsider more funding for DOA. Stopping fertilizer is another heavy burden on farmers in the wake of the failure of the ASG system to provide relief, throughout all 5 disasters. We need leaders whose focus and knowledge, is on Agriculture and husbandry.

Faafetai tele,

Sailimalo Edward Avegalio, Pava-Farm.