Well, I do know a lot about agriculture, but that is not the issue. The issue is one which every Cook Islander can see and comment upon and that is the apparent lack of development of agriculture here in Rarotonga and the outer islands.
Let’s talk about Rarotonga first. What happened to our pawpaw export industry?
It is quite clear that for a number of years now this government has not been able to improve the facilities for pawpaw to be exported. This is an old argument though. I recall before the 2014 elections, it was a hot topic with the general public and with growers.
The excuse given by government was that the heat treatment plant had broken down and since then I have not heard anything about it. I also recall when the minister was questioned about the heat treatment plant, he pointed the finger at the growers and accused them of being lazy and disorganised. However, there was a lot of pawpaw being grown on the island, the minister was one of the biggest growers of the fruit, selling it at the Punanaga Nui market. There was none, it seems, for export though.
If you travel around Rarotonga these days and tour the back road to see what landowners are growing, they all seem to have opted for subsistence growing. Drive by and you will see section after section of land with crops that some sell at the market, but the large pawpaw plantations are missing.
And what happened to vanilla farming? I notice that the minister has gone big on that and we have heard before of inroads made by the Vanilla Growers Association. Can we be provided with figures, data that shows us the value of vanilla for this country?
Gone are the days when agriculture was the backbone of this country. Certainly tourism has far surpassed its importance to the local economy. We recently read of concerns by Demo MP Selina Napa, who said too many tourists were visiting Rarotonga and stressed the urgent need to improve our infrastructure. Napa generated a debate during which some argued that we should not curb the number of visitors. I believe the burden lies on Henry Puna’s government to address the imbalance between tourists and infrastructure. And we all know the government has failed badly in that respect.
We have plenty of rich land here in Rarotonga for planting all sorts of crops for export and at present, much of that land is being wasted.
Papa Jack Copper has often talked about an export niche market for chilli. He says we could add value to the product here in in the Cook Islands by preserving it and exporting it all over the world. I am sure this government is aware of this potential market, which would be perfect for the size of farming operations we have here on Rarotonga and on the outer islands. But it is to no avail, this government has not seized such the opportunity, which is still prime for development.
We note that the Minister for Agriculture was castigated for his comments in Parliament about the outer islands being lethargic and lacking ideas about agriculture on the individual islands, particularly those in the southern group. The minister basically was saying that his government will not do anything because the outer islands are not coming up with their agriculture plans. That is, of course, a load of nonsense. One has to only look at the annual appropriation set for each island to see that there is a budget for agriculture and that money is vested in his ministry to go out there and develop agriculture on these islands. His reasoning is that there is no point in planning things from Rarotonga if they can’t be applied properly in the outer islands. Really, in a small country like ours? Come on, koe!
The Democratic Party has always had a strong policy on agriculture. The growing of limes on Mauke, for instance, was quite successful. There was a proposal for Mauke to house the DSIR station but this was not put through by Henry Puna’s government. The Demo Party, will however, continue with that train of thought by empowering the outer islands growers especially Mangaia and Nga Pu Toru.
Under my leadership, the Democratic Party will maintain its tradition of supporting growers and exporting their products.