Green Business: Samoa's organic bananas making NZ inroads

By Sahar Lone

Petelo Falesii, an organic farmer from Faleula village in Upolu and am WIBDI staffer on a collection day.
Petelo Falesii, an organic farmer from Faleula village in Upolu and am WIBDI staffer on a collection day.

Samoa's organic banana exports are set to get a boost from a new partnership between a New Zealand food company and a Samoan women's group.

Chris Morrison, co-owner of All Good Organics, is releasing New Zealand's first fair trade bananas next week in Auckland. He visited Samoan group Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI) in late 2009 to meet farmers as part of a scheme to develop more sustainable trade with the country.

Morrison, the original owner of Phoenix Organics, is now trialling importing 'misiluki' bananas from Samoa.

"Kiwis just seem to love bananas and it's the best way for us to start. I've always thought it would be great to have bananas from our neighbours in the Pacific," he says.

It hasn't all been plain sailing though, since the organic status of the bananas means they cannot be fumigated when they arrive in New Zealand. The Samoan cleaning system was not robust enough, says Morrison, which lead to three shipments being stopped by authorities due to bio-security fears.

Morrison's interest in importing organic products from the island nation began when he bought ginger for the drinks company in its early years.

He says buying from Samoa is a means of supporting the economy and making people less reliant on foreign aid or remittances.

"It's very important to have trade rather than aid. These are very poor people, and they do need the help, but it [trade] helps their livelihoods."

The Samoa tsunami in September affected 63 farmers and some of the 350 certified organic farmers have since relocated inland. Due to their farms being located across Samoa not all the crops were destroyed and Morrison says developing stable trade will help the economy to recover.

WIBDI's executive director Adimaimalaga Tafunai says the not-for-profit organisation is working with over 1000 families towards producing for export to New Zealand.

The bananas have only just become of value to the 95 farmers who she says are "serious" about their bananas. With 500kg of bananas currently exported every fortnight, she says there is opportunity for more regular and larger shipments.

Tafunai says Morrison's expertise in the area of organics has helped find niche stores to supply and maintain the price premium for a product which was previously used only for its leaves.

Aid money has been spent on the organic certification of their banana plantation by the Australian company Nasaa. Morrison says he is pleased the farmers have gone to extra lengths to be certified organic.

"I think that's really good use of their money. We want the people of Samoa to work with nature, not against it."

Morrison is hoping to start importing other organic products like dried papaya and mango from Samoa once the trade in bananas has become more established.

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