The loss of able bodied workers through the Recognised Seasonal Employer RSE Scheme was highlighted as a challenge for the coconut industry in the Pacific, during the Agriculture Week being hosted by Samoa this week.
The RSE Scheme came into effect in 2007, it allows for the New Zealand horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit from overseas on a seasonal arrangement, when there are not enough workers.
The Scheme allows the temporary movement of labour for seasonal work and the employment period for workers going on this scheme ranges from 3 to 7 months.
This movement of labour is causing problems for the coconut industry in Samoa.
Alo Kolone Vaai who manages his family’s plantation at Vaisala and a businessman, raised the issue in a presentation on Monday at the Coconut for Life side event at the Taumeasina Island Resort.
He complained that the scheme is taking away able bodied workers from working on the coconut plantations and when they return they do not want to go back to the plantations.
“This number is increasing,” Alo told the audience.
According to www.immigration.govt.nz when the scheme was first set up, the Pacific Islands labour force involved in the scheme was capped at 5 thousand. But the success of RSE has led to the increase demand from employers.
In 2009 there were 8000 places; 9000 in 2014 and at 2018 it was 12,850.
The number is also increasing because of the availability of seasonal work in Australia on the Seasonal Workers Program which began in 2011.
Alo argued that if the returning seasonal workers are not interested in returning to the plantation, then perhaps Samoa and Pacific Islands could start looking at technologies and investment in equipment.
He added that to sustain the coconut plantations the old coconut trees must be replaced and new trees replanted.
Other improvements which can be made to help coconut farmers in Samoa is improve the access roads.
On a positive note Alo said that the price of coconuts is falling in other Pacific Islands but not in Samoa.
He said in Samoa there are a lot of players in the market with a lot of by products and the growth in the coconut oil export to New Zealand and Australia.
Alo believes that in order for the local farmers to produce quality coconuts assistance from the South Pacific Community is needed.