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Paradise revisited: reflections of Samoa

22/08/2018 Apia, Samoa

I returned to Apia Samoa on 21 June 2018 to participate in a joint World Bank (WB), Government of Samoa (GoS), Food, and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) technical preparation mission.

Samoa will receive a grant of USD 13.9 million for the new Samoa Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project (SAFPROM) project, of which up to 3 million could go into fisheries development. The money for fisheries could be leveraged against a regional fisheries fund for fishery investments that have both national and regional significance in a ratio of 1:2, meaning that the GoS could access 6 million from the regional fund making the overall grant USD 19.9 million.

The project is building on an existing project which will be completed in December 2018, namely the Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project. I was the FAO team leader and economist working with the World Bank Task Team leader Mr. Stephane Forman. I loved my time in Samoa.

The team met with officials from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Small Business Enterprise Centre, the Development Bank of Samoa and FAO Sub Regional office. Field visits to farmers and matching grant beneficiaries on Upolu and Savai’i islands were undertaken. I checked everything out and even managed to join some island activities.

Samoa is paradise revisited. Like the last time I was here, the people are welcoming and warm. The culture is not alien, sharing several similarities with Zimbabwe (where I am from) mainly centred on familial obligations and ties. They have a system of extended family that enables each relative to contribute through a system of fa'alavelave. Fa’alavelave literally means an interruption. It speaks of an interruption to the family's usual schedule. Families would have to reorganise their day or week in order to rally family members for enough resources to meet their fa’alavelave obligations. In Shona culture we have a similar system for major family events, deaths, births, weddings and any other ceremony where the family contributes towards such an event. Similar to the Samoans it is usually by providing a cow, sheep, goat or other big or small stock, a financial contribution and/or physical labour.

The weather is gorgeous. So why would such an island need FAO/WB assistance?

Samoa is in the cyclone zone and has increasing  been suffering disruptions of their farming because of increased and more severe cyclone activities, and this year 2018 they suffered some damage from cyclone Gita. When cyclones happen, farmers and fisher folk suffer disruptions to their cropping, livestock and fishery activities and thus need assistance to regroup. They also need to climate proof their activities to mitigate the risks and thus minimise loses.

Personal shortcomings of paradise are that I am allergic MSG which is found in soy sauce and some other spices. I managed to have an allergic reaction after one day luckily not anaphylactic but I broke out in hives, a headache and severe itching.

Another issue that bedevils the South Pacific islands is obesity. The diet is terrible if you rely on fried foods which seems to be increasingly the Samoan way and good food requires more effort. Their natural diet of taro (tuber root crop) also known as madumbe in my local language, breadfruit, coconut, fish, shellfish, chicken and pork still exists but people now prefer the fast food. One really must try the food cooked over the Samoan Umu, a traditional above the ground stone oven heated by glowing hot lava rocks where the food is placed directly on the rocks wrapped in banana leaves or plaited in coconut fronds. The traditional food is delicious and nutritious however fish and shellfish are becoming very expensive and feed for livestock is a big issue. The livestock is grass-fed generally and thus organic but the islands are covered in rocks and thus creating pasture land is very expensive and labour intensive. As in other parts of the world they suffer from diminishing labour in the rural areas as young people migrate to either Australia or New Zealand or to the capital to work. However, with a little bit of effort, if one lives on the islands full time, one could ‘buy local’, or alternatively grow local, fire up an Umu and eat very well. Everyone in Samoa is pretty much a farmer. So one would require some creativity but there is an abundance of fruit and vegetables once one finds the local market and of course loads of meat. Fish is expensive and the cold chain for fish not developed but fresh fish is available. One fall in love thing though, taro (madumbe) chips (fried of course) thinly sliced - heavenly.

One would require a dryer as the weather is quite humid but It’s the place of beautiful, colorful cotton and one would always be in beautiful summer clothes and the Samoans love color so African clothes fit right in.. I must say the humidity was annoying.

Everything works but at a slower pace to the rest of the world and given that it’s 11 to 12 hours (depending on the time of year) ahead of Rome/Harare it is lovely, one has time to process and ignore or not messages that may cause concern.

Above all a gendered society. They have a third gender called the Fa'afafine who are people who identify themselves as a third-gender.  Men who dress as women and perform ‘women’s chores’ have been an important aspect of Polynesian culture for centuries. A very religious country - almost 99.99% Christian with complete acceptance of third gender.

Then the music oh the music. Soulful and everyone loves music.

So there you have it, all aspects that FAO contributes towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): resilience (SO5) – mitigating the risks of climate change; sustainable food systems (SO4) – Livestock, crop and fisher value chains; youth and migration (SO3) making agriculture more attractive; Sustainable agriculture (SO2) – ensuring productivity of the crops, livestock and fishery products and overall ensuring that FAO assists Samoans to end hunger (SO1) and all through a nutrition (combating obesity) and gender lense.  I can live there it fed my soul.


About the author:
Wadzanai Garwe joined FAO in 2010 in the Investment Centre. She has over 29 years of experience in emergency and rural development. Wadzanai is passionate about taking action to ensure that developing countries find appropriate and innovative solutions to combat poverty, debt, poor governance and disease.


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