COOK ISLANDS FOCUSES ON AGRICULTURE DEVELOPMENT

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Livestock farming to be improved

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 6, 2010) - If your household owns pigs, goats or chickens then you would be in the 92 percent majority that does according to a new report on agriculture produced as a plan to revive the farming of livestock and crop production in the southern group of the Cook Islands.

"Livestock plays an important role in our customary way of life, as can be seen by the fact that over 92 percent of all households in the Cook Islands keep animals," it claims.

Government is counting on the statistic for its NZ$3.5 million [US$2.6 million] plan to inject new life into the outer islands agriculture industry – which includes increasing the supply of meat to Rarotonga.

Increasing serious livestock farming is included in the plan which aims to get the islands of Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro and Mangaia supplying much of the fruit, vegetables and, to some extent, the meat that the Rarotonga local and tourism market demands.

The value of imported meat increased by around 14 percent a year between 2004-2006 suggesting an increase in demand from the local and tourism sectors says the report on ‘revitalizing agriculture in our southern islands’ released last week by agriculture minister Robert Wigmore.

Between them, the Nga Pu Toru islands and Mangaia comprise over 50 percent of the land area of the Cooks so they are ideal for farming and growing.

The report shows that in 2006 the Cooks imported 13,378 kilogrammes of fresh and chilled pork meat, 9192 kilogrammes of processed pork (think bacon) which combined were valued at around NZ$300,000 [US$220,000]. But this falls short in comparison to a whopping 592,348 kilogrammes of broiler chicken meat imported in 2006 worth over NZ$2.4 million [US$1.8 million].

In the 2000 agriculture census the local production and sale of meat was estimated at just NZ$139,145 [US$102,000].

The same census showed that the most popular type of livestock raised was pigs with 92 percent of households recorded as keeping pigs.

Around 31 percent of households indicated they were raising goats, another 30 percent were raising chickens and just four percent were raising cattle in 2000.

Ten years later government is claiming the same dated percentages still stand.

At the time of the census the total number of livestock in the country was estimated at 24,300 chickens, 15,900 pigs, 3600 goats, and 300 cattle.

The government team who worked on the new agriculture plan believes that the country can generally be self-sufficient in pork meat and eggs. The only drawback is the reliance on imported feed for pigs and chickens – so the plan will include producing feed locally.

In some of the Southern islands however, the animals themselves have become a problem. The island of Mangaia, which is known for farming goats, is concerned about reining in the problem of wild pigs and goats so that they can grow more crops without them being destroyed by the wandering animals.

The government report notes that the wild animals are difficult to hunt and cull in the inland makatea areas of Nga Pu Toru.

The report says since the mid-1990s the animal problem has worsened as the population of Nga Pu Toru drained away – those who kept livestock left them untended, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Under the new agriculture plan for Nga Pu Toru and Mangaia government plans to work with the private sector to identify the best livestock to farm on each island as well as provide training for farmers on how to raise them.

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