Cook Islands offers growers assistance to ensure food security

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

The Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture is offering free seedlings, fertiliser, organic pesticides and tractor-work for growers and home gardeners to provide food security as part of its emergency COVID-19 support package. Food vendor, Tai Napa Tapuvae, is taking up the offer to supplement the family business income that has come to a halt.

It is back to grassroots for these locals.

"We are putting seeds in the trays, we've got a lot of seedlings, some have come from the Agriculture Department which is fantastic. And we've got things like corn, we've got capsicums, we've got bok choy, we've got mesclun greens and some herbs, parsley," Puaikura Waka, of Ngāti Pikiao and Puaikura Waka, says.

It is a new direction for the popular Saturday Te Punanganui market Cajun Kai vendor to continue to feed her whānau.

"We can turnover on average approximately $2,000 per market. Now, in the meantime, our planting, the crops that we're growing, we want to do as much as we can because when it's time to start up there's going to be quite a significant cost involved."

The Ministry will pay for tractor use of up to three hours to cultivate suitable plots up to half an acre.

"My family has at least half an acre of land that I have access to and being able to plough that land and prepare it for plantation would be a huge help, and I definitely want to make the most of that."

With the country's main tourism industry coming to a standstill, the government is focused on supplying the local market over the next 3 to 6 months, with a vision for new export revenues.

"It's going to encourage healthy eating for the people and that's what it used to be like."

The package ends on 30 June. The Ministry in partnership with the Business, Trade, and Investment Board and Te Tango Enua will provide ongoing advice during this time.