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Parties focus on boosting agriculture in the Pa Enua

Thursday 21 July 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in National, Politics

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Parties focus on boosting agriculture in the Pa Enua
An outer island farmer at her taro plantation in 2020. Photo: CLIMATE CHANGE COOK ISLANDS/22072035

Cook Islands political parties are drumming up support for agriculture as the island nation looks to move away from its dependance on tourism, with policies ranging from subsidising agriculture equipment to better support for the Pa Enua.

The Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather said it would subsidise agriculture equipment for the outer islands as a way of encouraging more activity.

“The government needs to help create opportunities for the sector and stand by them,” Heather said.

Heather said it would also subsidise shipping costs to the outer islands.

“We will give the islands the incentive they need,” he said. “We have some very good farming people producing quality food in the outer islands, we need to encourage them to be part of business.”

Heather said the outer islands had been neglected by the governing parties for too long.

“Our investment in the outer islands will help the agriculture industry stand on its own two feet. We have got to start somewhere,” he said.

Heather said his Party would also structure the minimum wage according to the needs of the islands, setting it at $10 per hour in Rarotonga, $13 per hour in the Southern Group of the islands and $15 per hour in the Northern Group.

“You can’t simply standardise the minimum wage across all of the islands because each area has different needs,” Heather said.

The governing Cook Islands Party’s policy advisor Vaine Wichman said: “Since 2020 our Party Government has provided grant support to our people in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, handicraft production and tourism activities.”

Wichman said that improving the capacity of Cook Islands domestic farmers and agri-processors to supply the domestic market with safe and nutritious food will continue.

“Related to the incentive scheme will be initiatives to lower the cost of transporting goods to markets,” she said.

“Grant support to agriculture and fishing initiatives to assist in adaptation and mitigation strategies as impacted by climate change will become available over the period.”

Wichman said the aim over the next term will be to “enhance the contribution of agriculture and fisheries in the food security, health and nutrition and lives of our people”.

“Linkages will establish the markets for the food baskets in the South and North Cook Islands with Rarotonga,” she said.

“Climate change has reconfigured our planting and fishing targets. The notion of conservation and preservation will intersect goals in food security.”

Wichman said opportunities to grow prosperity for all islands have been identified.

“Social responsibility guides will ensure that our Pa Enua (outer islands) and our vulnerable (children, women, special needs and elderly) will have access to these opportunities.”

The Cook Islands Democratic Party manifesto calls for establishing the first public-private venture for vegetable crops and food processing plants with a substantive component of “shareholding” held by Cook Islanders.

It also calls for dedicated field officers and farm hands designated to each individual farming constituency, a centralised national pool of agricultural machinery, and government-subsidised Pa Enua (outer islands) passenger and cargo ship to transport pre-sold harvest from the Pa Enua to Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

The manifesto also proposes establishing the first $10 million agriculture diversification fund that is spread over a period of four years, from the Bank of the Cook Islands at low interest rates.

Cook Islands Democratic Party leader Tina Browne has been approached for comment.