FEBRUARY 2000 NEWSLETTER
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SAMOA
Samoa is different. There is none of the noise or squalor of the
East and none of the arrogance or affluence of the West. This is
easiest to see on the streets, where most cars actually stay at
the 25 mph town speed limit or lower and in traffic will allow another
car through when not required, just to help.
Even pedestrians, and there are few footpaths, are treated with
care. Cars will slow right down to pass or overtake walkers even
allowing oncoming traffic time and space to get past. Horns are
rarely used and traffic signals usually obeyed.
There is, however, a degree of serendipity about driving that makes
you watch whatís happening as there appears to be no set of definitive
road rules. You can never assume that the other driver knows what
heís doing, so give way to him just in case.
Roads at the moment are rough and appear badly maintained. I think
this has been due to a particularly wet few weeks causing the surfaces
to break up. Roadwork will continue to patch up. Roads are narrow,
and rarely is there any room to spare from oncoming traffic. Buses
seem to dominate and it still amazes me that Iíve fitted through
some of the gaps theyíve left for me. You canít assume that the
green verge is driveable as the volcanic rubble is everywhere. What
appears to be a green grassy verge is probably a jumble of 6 Ė 8
inch rocks hidden under the greenery.
Do a Paul Hogan along the main street footpath, and you will manage
eye contact with most people, and they will all respond with at
least a smile, if not a greeting as well. The village people will
be even more responsive.
Salaries are not high. Ads for positions in the Agriculture department
for first year graduates from Australian universities usually have
salaries at 10 Ė 12,000 local dollars a year. Thatís A$5-6,000.
Cost of living is low, provided you stay away from imported goods.
Fatty meat Ďdisposedí of by NZ and US companies is the cheapest
source of meat apart from local fish and chicken. Turkey tails,
lamb flaps and sausages are the main reddish meat diet items and
contribute significantly to the high incidence of obesity and diabetes.
Some cattle are bred and butchered locally, and this industry appears
to be growing. Good red meat is cheap by Australian standards, about
two thirds, but is still expensive for Samoan households. Itís quite
strange dealing with a packet of breakfast cereal costing as much
as a kilo of rump.
Samoan life is still largely based around the village, with many
houses clustered around a central green and community house and
or church. Most households have electricity and town water although
only 2000 houses have treated water. Kitchen appliances are still
out of reach of most households, so open fires are still used extensively,
smoke hanging over the valley every evening.
The strong village base means that anyone having a bad time for
money can always go back for support and a subsistence lifestyle.
Survival is easy, if you can live on a diet of taro, banana, coconut,
breadfruit, papaya, with the occasional pig or chicken on Sundays.
One of the aims of the project that has absorbed me, is to improve
diet diversity, so getting other fruits (and green leaves) into
villager diets is the focus of another team member. My job is to
get the new fruit trees into the villages and get the fruits popular
enough so that people will look after the trees. One of the difficulties
is that Samoan tastes are different as well, so that what I see
as a great fruit has little acceptance locally. One example is the
Golden and Purple passionfruits. These are highly rated at the fruit
tastings on the farm, and grow very well here, but very few Samoans
like them. Too acid. While there is a wild species of passionfruit
that they find very sweet and acceptable, that to me tastes of mouldy
or smoky overripe orange.
Durien has no value locally, yet the trees are the healthiest
I have ever seen with large crops of heavy fruit. Average weight
so far is around 3 kg. No-one on the farm was aware that Durien
falls from the tree when ready. So the fruit on the ground has always
been discarded as rubbish, in the same way that the windfall oranges
are weighed and dumped. I have now got the workers collecting the
dropped fruit every morning, but it is having to be stored in the
fertilizer shed as no-one will have it anywhere near where they
work. Except me. Iíve placed an ad in the Samoan newspaper to see
if anyone in this country is prepared to buy it while we hunt for
ways to test exporting it to NZ as frozen or chllled pulp.
Some of the largest and healthiest Rollinia trees Iíve seen are
also on both properties, with fruit production spread over a long
period. The fruit are a nightmare to our post harvest specialist
as they are just too fragile to be even worth investigating as an
export crop. The food processor sees possibilities, but hasnít yet
started playing with it.
Soursop is another fruit with major potential at all levels if
we can educate enough people about how to use it. Trees grow well
although they seem to be short lived with some fungal problems.
Some that I recommended be cut back hard in October last year, have
now regrown and are bearing fruit on the new wood. Large crops of
2-3 kg fruit. After pulping, the juice has a little sugar added
and is frozen as a sherbet or cooked up as a jam, after adding a
little pectin. Kids love it as icypoles, and it looks like being
used as a giveaway on training courses that the dietician member
of the team will be running in the villages and schools.
The more traditional fruits like oranges and mandarins, avocado,
starfruit that have a high level of acceptance already, are subject
to enormous damage from a moth pest that pierces the skin and sucks
out tiny amounts of juice but opens the flesh up to fungal attack.
There doesnít seem to be any ready solution to this problem as the
moths breed in the forest as well as the living fences used around
many properties, and they can travel well over 3 km in an evening.
Several species are involved, so the research to identify and isolate
parasitic pests has so far been ineffective. Many more millions
of dollars look like being thrown at the problem, while the organic
solution is to not grow the species that give that level of trouble.
Pommelo is immune from the pest, so grow that and learn how to use
it and avoid the problem, rather than spend a lot of money looking
for a solution.
Abiu is another fruit that seems immune from the fruit piercing
moth, which in Australia is heavily attacked by fruit fly. The different
species of fruit fly on Samoa seem unable to penetrate the skin.
So it seems relatively immune to pest problems, making it a great
fruit for local production. So there are some interesting times
coming when decisions are going to have to be made about which trees
go out to the villages and which get chopped down. The orchard where
Iím working has a huge collection of species, but no more than two
trees of each variety. Of any species, one third seems to be cropping
well, one third seems to have produced nothing in eight years, and
one third have one tree producing well while the other has produced