American Samoa Farmers Seriously Impacted By Ban On Local Produce

Farms frustrated they are all being hurt instead of just those in violation

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 3, 2016) – Owners of three vegetable farms on island say the temporary ban on selling their locally grown vegetables to local stores is seriously impacting their businesses, which have always complied with local laws as well as Department of Agriculture regulations.

In an Oct. 26 letter, Agriculture Acting Director Peter Gurr informed local storeowners and managers, restaurants and roadside stands that DOA “uncovered numerous violations by some local farmers” during routine DOA farm inspections in October. The letter outlined the various violations and stated that DOA is suspending the selling of all locally grown produce except for local taro, green bananas, ripe bananas and hydroponically-grown vegetables until further notice.

Gurr had sent an identical letter, Oct. 25, to the local Education Department recommending the suspension of locally grown vegetables to the school lunch program, with the same exceptions until further notice. 

The owner of one vegetable farm, who contacted Samoa News, yesterday, spoke of his “disappointment” over the DOA decision, saying his farm has always complied with local laws and Agriculture regulations.

“I can’t sell vegetables to stores. I can’t pay my workers because there is no money coming in,” the owner said yesterday, adding “this is a big loss for my business, which pays taxes to the government and complies with all fees and other issues required of me by the government.”

Asked how much income his farm earns, he said it’s about $300 to $400 a day selling to the various stores, Monday to Saturday. He said he is very careful as to which store his produce is sold to and, “I also face competition from other farmers — especially the new ones who sell their vegetables to stores at a very low price. And the stores only care about the low price not the quality of the products.”

The farmer said he had to hire people from off-island with specific expertise for farming vegetables and “that involved money spent to make sure that the vegetables are being farmed in the right way as well as paying airfares and expenses for workers brought in.” The owner claims he couldn’t find local people with the expertise in vegetable farming.

“My farm is going by the book — being in compliance, now I am being punished by the government,” he said via phone. “Why punish the farmers who are honest and are doing the right thing? Why not punish just the farmers breaking the law — using illegal chemicals?”

“It’s sad and very disappointing. I have employees with nothing to do and no income coming in,” said the owner who pointed out he has a truckload of vegetables ready for consumption but nowhere to take it or have it sold.

Two other farm owners told Samoa News early this week they were very surprised to learn about the ban when they too have been abiding with government regulations.

“It seems so unfair, very unfair that the good ones are punished along with the law-breakers,” said one of the owners, a female. “I sell my vegetables to the stores and the vegetables are now rotten in the field because of this temporary ban.”

The other farm owner, a male, said his produce had to be given away to friends and family members to be used. “I didn’t want to waste it by throwing it away or having vegetables rot in the field. My workers are very honest when it comes to the problems cited in Mr. Gurr’s letter. We comply with local laws all the time,” he said, adding that “I’m not sure how long this ban will be in place but there’s no income to pay my workers.”

Samoa News should point out that farm owners who spoke with Samoa News didn’t want to be identified by name in fear of government retribution for speaking out.

Among the eight violations cited in Gurr’s letter, considered by DOA as “very serious and extremely hazardous for local consumption” is the use of toxic, foreign labeled pesticides; use of pesticides with no Environmental Protection Agency registration numbers; and use of toxic non-EPA registered pesticides in fumigation and post harvest storage of vegetables and fruits in sealed containers in the field.

Several roadside stands, which usually sell vegetables, are no longer selling them since the letter from Gurr went out last week.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2016. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment