Note: The Cook Islands Party's answer to this question already ran in yesterday's paper. Here we present answers from the One Cook Islands and Democratic parties.
One Cook Islands
Obviously there is something wrong when a ministry that has been charged with the responsibility to facilitate and co-ordinate the development of initiatives to sustain livelihoods for its people, especially in agriculture, says something like this.
If the Ministry of Agriculture says the country cannot produce even 20 per cent of our needs for fresh produce, then some serious questions should be raised as to its ability to manage this sector on behalf of government.
The government has had eight years to look at ways to develop and support this sector. However, its priorities have shifted and the needs of our people have become secondary when you look at how much resources are being directed towards tourism, infrastructure, and ministerial and public-sector initiatives such as travel.
What has been neglected has been the focus on developing partnerships between government, island governments, and the private sector.
OCI will facilitate the decentralisation of agriculture to each island government so they can take responsibility for the development of this activity in partnership with their people on the islands, rather than it being run from the main island.
The ‘food basket’ concept for our people has been neglected because it has been turned into an economic activity to support the tourism industry rather than supporting our own needs.
OCI will support providing more financial and technical assistance and resources to boost agricultural initiatives, especially in the Pa Enua.
Capacity and capability training initiatives will also be part of upskilling our people so they can create their own home gardens to service their own needs, therefore allowing the big farmers and planters to focus on other sector’s requirements.
And aid support will be encouraged for more technical assistance rather than financial support, to ensure it goes into the areas designated rather than into a general pool that could potentially be used for other activities.
Critical to all of this is the need for a shift in policy mindset, with the focus on producing produce rather than focusing on servicing specific areas within society such as tourism.
This will also include making use of vacant lands to help boost and sustain people’s livelihoods and food security issues in the future.
Agriculture will also form an essential part of our education curriculum, as well as tertiary initiatives to encourage students to take this up as a fulltime study programme as part of our future realignment of study programmes at tertiary institutes that are compatible to our country’s needs.
OCI will also introduce a new initiative that encourages women and girls to participate in agriculture programmes where they undertake training in all aspects of agriculture development.
Finally, OCI will look at ways of diversifying different crops for each island with a view to interisland trade, so the yield becomes all year round instead of on an “as required” basis. This will also more than likely encourage trade in other goods and services, especially between the Pa Enua, rather than relying on Rarotonga and imported goods from overseas when there are shortages.
Our imports have exceeded exports to our detriment for many years and we must close this gap through local agricultural development and support for growers and farmers.
We must also invest in our own people to grow and to market our produce so that we produce quality at the best price.
The Democratic Party is committed to increasing business opportunities in agriculture and horticulture, and developing a continuous food supply for our own people now and in the future.
To support this growth we will exempt income tax for growers and farmers for all land-based local production for five years to boost growth in local food production.
We will also boost local small business by establishing a farmers/growers, fishermen and creative industries development fund of five million dollars, by agreement with donor funding agencies and increasing levies on imported produce and products that compete with locally grown or made.
A Democratic government will re-establish the Cook Islands Marketing Board for all Cook Islands fresh produce and products so that producers can focus on the business of production and supply to markets, both local and overseas, opened through the CI Marketing Board.