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By Mele Laumanu Petelo

HONOLULU, Hawaii (July 30, 1997 - PIDP/CPIS)---The finance sub-committee of Tonga’s Parliament is studying a petition from local squash pumpkin growers, seeking compensation of five million pa’anga (approximately $US 4.5 million), including bank loan repayments.

The request for funds results from last year’s squash pumpkin market price slump, which saw prices drop more than a third compared to 1995.

Prices offered by Japanese importers last year were the lowest ever since the once-lucrative squash pumpkin trade began between Tonga and Japan more than ten years ago.

More than 800 growers on the main island of Tongatapu and the Ha’apai group, two of the three main squash pumpkin growing areas, signed the compensation petitions submitted to Parliament.

The Parliament took two days to deliberate over the matter and then decided to refer the petition to the finance sub-committee, which has been requested to report back with recommendations.

Growers generally obtain loan funds from the Tonga Development Bank at the beginning of each growing season, making full repayment when it ends. However, the majority of growers operated at a loss last year, when the price dropped from about one pa’anga per kilogram in l995, to an average of just 30 seniti last year.

They say they are unable to make repayment of the loans and now seek Parliament's financial assistance.

Average annual earnings from squash pumpkin exports in the early 90’s were more than 20 million pa’anga.

It is expected that the kingdom will earn between 15 and 20 million pa’anga from this year’s exports.

Squash pumpkin now is Tonga's major cash crop.

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