Cook Islands Agriculture Sector Urged To Increase Production

Growers not meeting target of 20% of conumption being produced locally

By Losirene Lacanivalu 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 20, 2016) – The Cook Islands agricultural sector is unable to meet a target of being able to grow at least 20 per cent of the food needed to feed the nation’s population.

That’s the word from Ministry of Agriculture director of research and development division, William Wigmore, who yesterday said imports of fresh fruit and vegetables into the country were increasing at a rapid rate every year.

“We are looking at $10 million [US$7.3 million] worth of fresh fruits and vegetables annually to the Cook Islands and meat imports now total more than $12 million [US$8.75 million].”

Speaking at a hydroponics workshop at the Ministry of Agriculture office yesterday, Wigmore said imports continued to mount up as efforts were made to increase the number of tourists coming into the country.

“This year there has been a marked increase in the number of visitors from offshore and I think we will probably hit 150,000 compared to the 130,000 total we have received in the past. “So the numbers are continuously increasing and unfortunately we are not able to meet even 20 per cent of the food needed to feed our population.” The hydroponic workshop, scheduled to end on Thursday, is looking at improving the capacity of Cook Islands agriculture.Wigmore said Simon Lennard, a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consultant from Suntec International Hydroponics in New Zealand, had explained to

F18 workshop participants at the workshop why the Cook Islands needed to make greater efforts to establish farms using the hydroponics method to grow vegetables and other plants. Agriculture Minister Kirau Turepu said the wealth of knowledge that Lennard would share would benefit Cook Islanders because time and again, the Ministry of Agriculture had discussed with farmers the need to grow enough produce to reduce costly imports.

However farmers needed to drive the effort themselves, he added.

“I think about how we can drive ourselves to reduce imports into our country and produce our own crops, but things are not moving forward and if we are to rely on our growers to grow outdoor crops, then we are heading for disaster.”

Turepu said along with the need to reduce importation it was greatly important for local farmers to intensify production and the ministry saw great potential in hydroponics.

“This workshop will, I believe,  drive some people to engage themselves in hydroponics and to the extent of (establishing) a sustainable business.”

He said one problem Cook Islands farmers were facing was land, which was getting limited for agricultural purposes. Hdyroponics would give more people a chance to take up farming.

Turepu said the Green Climate Fund gave opportunities in assist growers in the outer islands and Business Trade Investment Board (BTIB) had soft loan policies as part of their assistance packages.

“If ever anyone wants to engage into the funds for agriculture, these funds will be available, so there is a window of opportunity which the government can assist to reach out to the people on the ground and to support them.”

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