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By Ken Brown

Islands Business Magazine

SUVA, Fiji (July 2004) - There's a new contender on the export horizon, hailing from the agricultural sector with the potential to help stimulate Tonga's sagging economy: Aloe Vera.

While it is not exactly brand new to Tonga, 2003 saw an increase in the number of farmers opting to allocate land for growing Aloe.

With last year's completion of a fully operational processing facility, located at Nuku'alofa's industrial complex, Aloe is on its way to establishing credibility as a viable agricultural export. It has advantages over vanilla, squash and coffee, currently Tonga's leading cash crops.

Bret Norager, of Norsa Enterprises Ltd., says he was attracted to the concept because it is easy to grow, has no local enemies or pests, self-propagating and low maintenance.

Unlike coffee and vanilla which take three years to yield a harvest, Aloe pups or baby plants averaging 20 to 25 centimeters when transplanted, will grow to maturity in only 12 to 16 months and can be harvested four times a year.

Mature Aloe plants continue to yield for a full five years during which time they produce 10 pups, which are transplanted to beds when 7 to 8 centimeters tall.

This procedure reduces the nutrient drain on the mother, while providing farmers with free plants for future growth. Mature plants that are transplanted require 3 to 4 months to re-establish their harvesting cycle. With Aloe Vera, start-up costs need not be repeated as with squash which requires seeds, and replanting every year.

Also squash requires fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides; all that is required with Aloe Vera is weeding, about once a month.

And when it's harvest time, the Aloe Vera grower just calls the local processing facility. There's no guessing about the final market pricing while the product is en route to overseas markets as with squash.

South Pacific Aloe and Botanicals, Ltd.'s (SPAB) United States rep, John Aquino, who came to oversee the completion of the Aloe processing facility, said one of the main challenges after completing the facility was to keep it operational.

"We're meeting that challenge by acquiring more land and growers," says Aquino.

There are three options currently being pursued:

Aloe Vera, with the convenience of a local processing plant and its upfront payment rate, is a viable agricultural option for Tongan farmers.

July 14, 2004

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