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Four islands eager to develop farmlands

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 27, 2010) – In the Cook Islands, agriculture minister Robert Wigmore is keen to see the NZ$3.5 million [US$2.5 million] Te One Kura project take off after holding initial talks with the four islands taking up the challenge.

The people of the Nga Pu Toru islands of Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke along with Mangaia are all keen to take up the offer of assistance from government to revive the country’s agriculture industry.

Wigmore spoke to the media yesterday about his three day visit to Mangaia last week with Te One Kura’s project team and the potential that the island has for supplying a range of produce to the Rarotonga market.

According to team member Selina Napa from the Business Trade Investment Board (BTIB), the four islands have now expressed their view that if there is a market and cheap freight then they will sign up to the project.

"One of the main issues we took to the islands was that the supply of the market in Rarotonga has to be continuous and there has to be a demand there. They are all in favor of the plan. The next step now is to secure technical assistance to run the project on each island."

Napa says what Mangaia lacks more than the Nga Pu Toru islands are a young labor force.

"There is a missing gap in the labor force. The youth and the working age group are missing so the island is considering outside labor to assist with the project."

The minister said he is keen to see Mangaia grow the kind of produce for the local market that presently is almost entirely imported.

"The colder climate in Mangaia means there is potential there for it to grow veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, capsicum and snow peas during the cooler months," he said.

Te One Kura team member William Wigmore from the ministry of agriculture said the Mangaia growers have indicated an interest in growing new veggies such as celery. While there are still a few Granny Smith apple trees growing on the island, Wigmore said there are more attractive options for commercial crops such as table grapes and persimmons.

"We have to be careful not to introduce any diseases but we can trial some table grape varieties from Australia."

Wigmore also says Mangaia growers have a desire to grow citrus crops for their own consumption and later to supply Rarotonga. A new variation of pineapple is being trialed and Mangaia is hoping to increase its production of black taro, taro tarua, yam, and dragon fruit.

Tinirau Tamarua from the ministry of infrastructure and planning is looking at the livestock production strategy for the four islands. He says Mauke and Atiu, Mangaia wants to focus on goat farming.

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