Such partnership is essential

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Minister La’auli Leuatea Schmidt.

Minister La’auli Leuatea Schmidt. (Photo: File)

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Orlando Huaman*

Did the Minister of Agriculture just realize that it is “essential” for both to work together? 

Is it more logic to enunciate: we are in the same business we (M.A.F) produce the raw materials and you (S.R.OS) added value to them? 

Is it a matter of logic and common sense.? Isn’t it?  

It says right in the S.R.O.S. Mission statement since its foundation. Why bring up in Parliament old mundane issues such as frozen taro, etc.?

You don’t even need an expensive set up as the SROS building to produce what was “discussed” in Parliament. A set up that have cost a lot of money and that it has not produced not a red penny in return; and an establishment that was designed to be self sustained in the first two years of work.

Let us not forget that S.R.O.S. was founded exclusively to give added value to our local staples. That has not been done and for the past 10 solid years. Are we about to think that, all of a sudden, they are going to realize what their job is and getting paid for?

That is what one of Faumina’s C.E.O, then MNRE Minister, told me in a Xmas dinner at the SROS location. The year 2007. His assertion was that SROS must be, within two years a self sustained organization. 

But 10 years later is still milking the cow. Are we going to have another white elephant in the making? In the way it is going no miracles are going to happen. And expect that value added to our staples will be coming out as in an assembly line? Well, don’t hold your breath.

But under all this cloud of speculations there is a basic reason why it won’t happen in a hurry.

What follows is my educated opinion.

Nothing else. I might be wrong, I usually am.

The reason why SROS does not take off as a research organization and never will as it is, unless drastic changes are made or privatize it.  Talking about privatizing SROS. Didn’t the Minister of Agriculture said, and I quote straight from the horses mouth: “… after 11 years since SROS was established, the research organization has fulfilled its mandate…The time for trial is over.

It is time to move forward” The newspaper also said; “A proposal to commercialize S.R.O.S. will be table in Cabinet for its consideration…”  Lo and behold, a few days later the CEO of SROS contradicted  all  of the above as said by the Minister. Or perhaps what he said was forged by whoever took his word as Gospel? By the way, who is telling the truth? 

Remember this is a country founded on Tulaepa: King of the jungle and “saviour” of the poor, also Commander in Chief of the Samoan Constitution.

It is “essentiall” that the Minister and his CEO are on the same page. No contradictions.

Let others develop it as a true research organization and at the level of other well advanced countries, is because its lack intellectual infrastructure. What I mean by this is-having worked there for a year as a consultant, I have observed very closely and critically how their so called strategy does not amount to anything. And it won’t; unless changes are made and fast.

A research organization, as common sense indicates, should be headed by an individual with a Ph.D. either in food science or food technology. And a well developed network with other research organization around the globe. In the absence of that by a seasoned food researcher or entrepreneur with proven experience in producing added value to raw materials.

Since we do not have that calibre of professional the logical and sensible thing is or should have been was to bring somebody from the outside and for a fixed term. In the meantime under his/her direction train others to follow in his/her steps. 

When the previous MNRE minister was the CEO of SROS , I would say, it was going OK. Avocado oil was produced, breadfruit flour and post-harvest technology practiced, among other things. After he left, first, the Ph.D. requirement for the position was lowered down to M.Sc. degree. Bad move! There is a difference in the mentality of these two men.

Case in point when I finished my consultation work, which it was to establish the Microbiology Department at SROS, and I indicated to the ex-MNRE Minister that the success  of that department should depend  on who will be hired to lead it. 

That was not done. He indicated to me that he preferred a Samoan in that post. And I reiterated to him of not being of his opinion. Sure enough, the man who was chosen, resigned within 6 months.

Also among the candidates for that position -7 of them- none of them qualified. Repeat none of them qualified to direct the Microbiology Department. To add insult to injured all the candidates not chosen (6) were recalled and given responsible positions at SROS. 

With the result that a project to bottle coconut water- with a budget of 250,000 never saw the light of day in the grocery stores. Neither a project to produce virgin coconut oil- with a budget of 450,000 tala.

Not only that their website and their projects “finished” would not impress in the least to other highly qualified and well recognized research organizations abroad. Why? read below.

Among its “scientific” staff they have for this very research organization: an accountant, a fish lab. technician, and a lab. technician from USP. A Samoa Breweries lab. technician, also a lab. technician specialized in water analysis. And to top it off a 12 year veteran in Australian correctional facilities. Today as Tafaigata Prision Commissioner.

Who stands at the gate saying have a good weekend as the prisoners leave for a “well deserved” weekend at home. Sweet home. He was in charged of the  Renewal Energy department. Nothing came out of it. And we are still buying fuel abroad and paying thru the nose. All the members of that staff have no experience whatsoever in giving value to raw material.

Some of them have improved themselves ever since.

Another basic constraint  on the business of SROS of commercializing the existing or non existing value added products,  is the lack of entrepreneurs in Samoa. You know those guys with money to spare, itching to take a risk. Tuilaepa once said that the street vendors of Samoa are going to be the future entrepreneurs. Remember this Mr. P.M. on your kids vendors: in order for they to earn more they have to learn more. Education is essential, right Mr MAF’s minister?

Benjamin Franklin said: “”Empty the coins in your purse into your mind, and your mind will fill your purse with gold.”

In all these years, have they published anything of what they are doing? Not at all. May be they were not doing what they suppose to do: adding value to our beloved taro, banana, etc.

That is why nothing came out in writing, for the taxpayer that paid their salaries, to read. While there I wrote a proposal to create a Food Safety and Inspection Service of Samoa. Sad to say, nobody took notice of the importance of it. With the result that, right now, we have the worst food safety in the planet and beyond.

Moreover, in despite of the fact that the Chamber of Commerce promotes training for “Customer Service” none of what is taught take effect in a real life situation here in Samoa.

Case in fact. Just a few months ago, I dialled SROS. Whoever answered the phone said “research.” I repeated: Is this SROS? Answer: a flat unmotivated yes followed. Since I was inquiring about prices for an analysis I left my name and e-mail address. Never heard from them again. Is this the way to run a scientific research organization? I don’t think so. 

This inattention to Customer Service equates our poor food safety in Samoa. En effect, the poorest in the world, this sad situation is shared by Kenya. The lack of a smile  by our sellers equates the lack of cleanliness all around in the food service chain from farm to table.

To say that the MAF-SROS link is essential is an understatement. It should be highly mandatory. Just like the link between MAF and the farmers. Who are claiming for attention.

Have you read in the Village Voice a poor farmer thanking the MAF for their technical guidance, help, care, or ways to make them less miserable? No way Jose.

Our farmers are completely abandoned to their sad fate. And they have been since day one. Unless the MAF is completely reorganized to emphasize the importance of cultivating our own soil to make us self sufficient, our dependence of foreign food will go on forever.

We can’t talk of exporting anything unless we produce quantity and quality. And all in accordance with the latest technique that science can give us. If Samoa think we have the brains to solve our own problems, let us use them.

55 years have passed since we got loose from foreign powers grip and still have our hands up in the air for hand outs. We graduates more theologians  than agricultural specialists. We sorely need the latter.

We have more than enough churches and pastors. Poverty will not go away unless the churches loosen up the noose around the neck of those who believe that the more they give the so called  Heaven is ready for them for the mere asking. 

Nothing is further from the truth. Let us face it; heaven and hell are right here on the very soil we walk every day of our lives, until we are no more. To think otherwise is a complete illusion. Remember the Bible says “from dust to dust” and your hard earned money is gone forever.

Have a nice workweek.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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