Peter Tulaga Eliesa’s taro plantation stretching up the Fiaga hills
BY Emil Adams
APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 03 APRIL 2017: The mid-morning sun shone brightly on a cloudless day last Saturday 25th March ‘17 as a group of enthusiastic farmers and passionate home gardeners found themselves trekking up the cool heights of Fiaga terrain negotiating a treacherous dirt road to reach the taro farm of 36-years-old farmer, Peter Tulaga Eliesa.
The road to Peter’s farm is an off-road from the main tar sealed Fiaga road, passing several cattle-sheep farms. Peter’s farm is further in-land from another successful farmer, Mr. Ricky Westerlund’s farm, whom Peter credited for his interest in farming.
The group of passionate home gardeners and farmers are members of the Informal Gardeners Group (IGG), the Samoa Federated Farmers Incorporated (SFFI), and their friends. The group of 20+ members have a common interest to share knowledge on home gardening, share planting materials and doing their part for food security, landscaping homes, and re-kindle interest in backyard gardening for busy urban dwellers.
A signwriter by profession and a former bank officer, Peter took inspiration from Ricky after reading up on the great successes this vegetable farmer had achieved through sheer hard work over many years. That was back in 2008 when they were both involved in developing the Fruit and Vegetable Sector Strategy. Two years later Peter took a leap of faith and got into farming planting taro at the family land at Aleisa. But soon after, he ran out of land to farm.
He went and saw PM Tuilaepa for some a land to expand his taro farm. He was initially granted a 50-acre plot at Fiaga which came with a stern challenge from the PM: prove you can plant 50 acres in one year. But Peter went beyond expectations planting 50 acres in half a year. He achieved this extraordinary feat by planting 1,000 tiapula’s a day per farm help. He has only four farm workers, planting into the night sometimes under floodlights!
He was soon granted another 70 acres, and now all 120 acres are under taro. Peter resorted to help from some friends in using drone technology to map out the massive farm, pinpointing out landmarks and vulnerable spots to land erosion. The taro farm stretches from the edge of the dirt road all the way up the rolling hills as far as the eye could see, it is a an awesome sight.
Peter is touted to be the biggest taro farmer in Samoa, and planting the recommended taro export varieties including MAF02, Fusi, Salani, and Tanumalala. His principal two markets include the local market, and taro exporters. The bulk of taro produced in Samoa is exported fresh to NZ, a little bit to the US, and frozen taro to Australia.
But it wasn’t an easy task to get the farm to where it is now. It came with huge challenges. Land clearing was a big undertaking, as Peter pointed across the road to a neighbour’s land covered in wild guava and bush. Similarly, his land was covered in thick wild guava and brush before being cleared.
Initial start up capital for land clearing was from personal savings, with planting materials from his family farm.
One can only imagine the sheer hard work put in to clear thick brush and getting the land prepared for planting.
Peter has hosted several delegations of parliamentarians in the past, making the trip to witness the biggest taro farm in Samoa. And Peter took the chance to impress on them the urgency to improve the atrocious road, accessible only by 4WD trucks.
Another big challenge for Peter is water – he makes four daily trips to fetch water for use by the workers needed for the farm.
Deeply grateful for the rich blessings he has received, Peter contributes generously to the community through making weekly taro donations to Mapuifagalele, Samoa Victim Support, and to the Prisons and wardens. He has also donated tiapulas to the Prisons farm as well to inmates upon release to help them get on with their lives.
Peter is now a proud owner of a brand new Toyota Prado 4WD truck, paid for no doubt by the fruits of his labour, and a little help from the Development Bank. He encourages other youths not to wait around for help but get up and start farming.
Peter’s example of hard work, perseverance, determination and practicing smart agriculture in the methods and technologies he uses and the successes coming to him is a beacon for others to follow. Good agricultural practices not only bring good returns, sustainability of production but more importantly maintain environmental integrity.
Before departing Fiaga, members of IGG thanked Peter for the tremendous effort he has put in towards the development of taro farming, wishing him well and hope some youths will take inspiration from him and make positive contributions.