Junior Takairangi sowing seeds for the Ministry of Agriculture as part of the free seedlings programme. CALEB FOTHERINGHAM/21030358
Free seedlings are available to both commercial farmers and home gardeners at the Ministry of Agriculture, for food security and vision for new export revenues.
Local growers can once again take advantage of
the free seedlings initiative which has been running since Monday, March 1.
Free seedlings were first made available in
April last year. The latest initiative will run until June 30, 2021.
Secretary for the Agriculture Ministry, Temarama
Anguna-Kaman said there are 12 seedling varieties available for commercial
Anguna-Kamana said the crops available are beans,
bittermelon, capsicum, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, okra, snow
peas, sweet corn, tomato and tsoi (choy) sum.
Each farmer can get three trays of three different crops.
For the home gardeners, five varieties of seedlings are
available in smaller quantities. They are dwarf beans, Chinese cabbage,
eggplant, okra and tsoi sum.
Three trays of three crops will also be made available to
puna upon request, with the intention it will be used for food and security
needs of the elderly and vulnerable population.
She said growing advice will also be given to both home gardeners
and commercial farmers.
The Ministry will also give one and a half
litres of plasma foliar fertiliser to each full and part-time commercial
farmer. But the fertiliser will only be available once the farmer returns their
empty seedling trays.
When the seedlings were first made available
in April last year, Te Tango Enua growers’ association president Danny Mataroa
said it was critical Cook Islands provided food security for its people in the
Yesterday Mataroa welcomed the latest initiative.
However, he said: “I hope this time they control the distribution. Last year
when they gave out the seedlings to everyone, soon there was oversupply of two
to three produce such as tomatoes and cucumber and couple months later,
everyone ran out, no tomatoes or cucumber.”
“There needs to be a consistent supply of
produce for a long time and that can only be achieved if the ministry
distributes these seedlings in a control and consistent manner.”
Agriculture staff Junior Takairangi has been
busy sowing seeds for the Ministry over the last few weeks for the initiative.
According to Takairangi cucumber, beans and
corn are the easiest plants to grow in Rarotonga.
He said it only takes two to three days for
those plants to germinate.
“Tomato and bok choy take about a week to pop
It can take about eight weeks for tomatoes and
bok choy to be ready for consumption.
For people starting with seeds, they “always
need a potting mix to start with”. They need to move the plant into topsoil
when it is ready for the garden, Takairangi said.
He said home gardening had become more popular
due to the financial impacts of Covid-19.
The free seedling programme will not be
available to full-time public sector employees.
The programme is part of the Pacific Regional
Integrated Food and Security Initiative to Covid-19 (PRISCO19). The initiative
includes the Cook Islands along with the other Pacific nations, Fiji, Kiribati,
Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste,
Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The purpose of this programme is to address
food and nutrition security impacts in the Pacific as a result of Covid-19. It
is also to protect the Pacific from Covid fueled food chain disruptions.
Pacific nations rely on food imports and are
often food insecure, the programme is designed to mitigate the problem by
assisting independent food production.
The value of the 12-month programme across all
the countries is $2.5 million.