From Henry Enasio (11 June 2012)

Public Spat

It was quite disconcerting for me to read about the public spat between two well-respected and experienced members of the Rotuma Island Council. First the comments by Gagaj Maraf reported in the Fiji Sun on 10/5/12 and the response by Antonio Muera Tanu on 3/6/12. I would have thought that the two men would have tried to amicably resolve their differences in a Council meeting rather than publicly bringing the issue to the media for all to read.

The Government has done so much to arrange the trade with Tuvalu for us. But from what I understand, the fact-finding mission and feasibility study were not properly done by those who went to Tuvalu. Also there were no alternative plans to sell the excess produce planted by the farmers for the Tuvalu market, or to the stop the rot and the wastage of the matured taro and cassava. To me, it’s been a massive exercise in futility for the farmers to plant so much only to see their produce rot and go to waste. This can be very disheartening and frustrating indeed to the farmers and may lead to mass abandonment of the planting plans and consequently the trade with Tuvalu.  For Rotuma to export to Tuvalu, a protectionist policy needs to be imposed by the two Governments to make the agreement viable.
Perhaps the fact-finding mission missed the mark in that they did not take into consideration the following:

  1. That the Tuvaluans’ basic food diet comprises mostly of rice, breadfruit, coconuts, hara and fish, and that taro and cassava is a novelty to them. Also rice and breadfruit involve lesser work to prepare and time to cook.

  2. That the MV Niuvaga, the Tuvaluan-owned boat, has a limited carrying capacity and sails first to Suva to unload and load before it can detour to Rotuma for the pickup of the Rotuma-Tuvalu trade produce. But whilst the boat is in Suva exporters such as Joe’s Farm and others who also have licenses to trade in Tuvalu load several containers of taro and cassava on to the boat. Thus the boat is fully loaded and cannot sail to Rotuma for the pickup. This happens every time the Niuvaga comes to port in Suva; hence why in 9 months the boat has yet to arrive in Rotuma. I see this as an ongoing issue that will be hard to resolve unless an anti-trade and protectionist policy (that is counter productive to other exporters in Suva) is implemented to protect the Rotuma-Tuvalu trade. 
  3. The need to make an arrangement in Fiji with National Marketing Authority and others like the Fiji Export Council, Pacific Harvest, the cassava processing plant at Navua, Filipo Seru of Vanualevu, etc. to buy produce from Rotuman farmers for cash rather than leaving crops to rot, fostering disappointment and frustration. Thus I hope something will be done by RMCOL to look for an alternative market in Fiji.