11 Nov 2013

Cook Islands Agriculture Ministry shifts focus to organic farming

6:16 pm on 11 November 2013

The Minister of Agriculture in the Cook islands says growing organic produce is the way of the future.

The Ministry is shifting its focus away from conventional farming which uses fertilisers and pesticides to organic fruit and vegetables as part of its plans to revive the agriculture sector.

Beverley Tse filed this report:

Planting crops and living off the land is a lifestyle held by most people living in the Cook Islands. Some of the fresh produce, including pineapple and citrus fruits, are sold to local accommodation providers and restaurants and a small quantity is for export. The President of the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce says the country had a thriving agriculture sector in the 1960s, 1970s and late 1990s, but it has faced a number of complex issues. The country once exported heat-treated fresh produce to New Zealand and, although this is non-existent now, Steve Anderson believes there is potential to revive it.

"STEVE ANDERSON: The heat treatment plant which is necessary for the export of all fresh fruit produce has been derelict since the turn of the century, in fact. It really needs to be handed over to private sector to operate. It's not the sort of thing that governments successfully operate."

Steve Anderson says agriculture should be treated as a business and run by the private sector. He says some locals have expressed interest in expanding agricultural exports but they want to guarantee they'll profit from it.

STEVE ANDERSON: The cost of freight to New Zealand and its other markets has grown considerably. So they are definitely needing certainty that their product will get to market at a good price or they're looking for the opportunity to sell it for cash locally to somebody who will export it on their behalf.

The Minister of Agriculture Kiriau Turepu says his vision is to build a green economy and says the ministry is slowly developing organic farming.

KIRIAU TUREPU: You know, in the mindset of people today, if you come to think about it, you know it seems that organically grown product is the way for the future. And while I tend to agree with that, it's a gradual process for you to move towards that and leaving the conventional system.

Kiriau Turepu says the use of fertilisers and pesticides is being reduced but the country won't completely phase out conventional farming. The executive officer of the Mauke island government Taukea Raui says the island is producing good, organic noni, which is being exported as juice but says it is bulky. He says he aims to export noni as capsules.

TAUKEA RUI: We'd like to grow 300 acres of that crop. Maybe if we can get that acreage maybe we can entice some entrepreneurs outside to come and partner with us. They can do the processing, we can do the planting.

Taukea Raui says the local administration on Mauke hopes reviving the agriculture sector will create jobs for the declining population of under 300, and prevent more people leaving the island to find work.