(One of a series of articles about growing fruit trees
in Samoa, written by Digby Gotts and published in the 'Samoa Observer'
between December 2000 and April 2001)
The rambutan season is sadly drawing to a close but if you missed out
on tasting these delicious morsels don’t fret too much. A second,
smaller, crop is on its way and should be ready around June. This season
has been the first one for growers who have cared for their trees for
around 5 years. Prices at Fugalei market of $4 – 6 a kilo have made
their wait worthwhile.
The MAFFM Fruit Tree Project team have had an exciting time over the
past month or so sending some trial shipments of these fruits to New Zealand
for market testing and to see how difficult it is to gain the approval
of the NZ Quarantine service for importing this fruit. The good news is
that NZ consumers enjoyed the fruit at least as much as Samoans do here,
but they are willing to pay much higher prices, making the fruit a good
prospect for export. The bad news is that there is still a lot of pest
control work to be done in ensuring that the fruits sent to NZ are completely
clean of insect pests.
MAFFM researchers have been working flat out over the harvest season
testing many of the varieties of rambutan to prove to NZ Quarantine (and
others) that the local fruit flies are not attracted to these fruits.
This has involved breeding thousands of the flies in sealed cages and
then exposing hundreds of the fruits to the flies when they are ready
to lay eggs. The exposed fruit, which may have eggs inside, are then taken
to another cage where they are left to allow any eggs to develop. When
the larvae hatch from their egg, they leave the fruit and drop into a
sawdust layer where they can be collected. Not one fruit has so far produced
one larva although the trials are continuing, as there are around 8 varieties
of rambutan, each of which has to be tested.
The problem pest is proving to be mealy bugs infesting the fruit. They
do little damage, but there are some that are common here and not in NZ.
The NZ government therefore insists that every mealy bug be removed from
the fruit before they are shipped. They are easily recognised by the white
hairy patches on the fruit, but not so easily removed. They are controlled
on the tree by sprays of oil or soapy water, but this doesn’t remove
them well enough for a quarantine standard. We have to find a safe-for-man-and-fruit
cleaning process that will kill every possible mealy bug on every fruit.
Work is continuing.
Another issue to be dealt with is that having identified rambutan as
a strong possibility for an export crop, there are simply not yet enough
trees in the country to allow an industry to become established beyond
supplying the local market. Rambutan grow to be big trees and need a lot
of land if they are to be grown commercially. Twenty trees, needing 2000
square meters, would be a minimum number to allow a reasonable return
to a household using it’s own labour. An operation employing labour
would need around 200 trees for a worthwhile return on the investment.