Months of practice, hours of cleaning and a whole day of packing bananas have resulted in Samoa’s first shipment of export ready bananas in 50 years.
Member of the Banana Growers Association, Taimalie Charlie Westerlund, Ututa’aloga Charlie Ulia and Tuisuga Sofara Aveau together sent 500 boxes of their best green bananas to New Zealand on Wednesday, hoping to break into the market there.
Farm manager for the Ah Liki plantations, Johanna Coyle said exporting bananas is a massive challenge and preparing for this week has been nearly two years in the making.
The New Zealand quarantine rules are strict and the fruit itself is difficult to predict.
“It’s important they reach their destination in the same state so that when they are sold for the ripe banana market, the vendors can ripen them and have a uniform grade to sell,” said Ms. Coyle.
“When bananas ripen, they release ethylene which speeds up the ripening of the fruit around them, so we’ve been careful to select a harvest of the perfect maturity.”
The cleaning process is the hard part, Ms. Coyle said, because bananas have many nooks and crannies for bugs and dirt to hide in, which could affect the entire shipment.
“We soak them in water and use hoses to get in between the bananas to wash out the dirt and bugs hiding in there. We’ve also been practicing on our own bananas for months,” she said.
Finally on the big day, Ah Liki hired several more hands to help harvest and pack the bananas as well as sort through to remove any unattractive or prematurely ripening fruit.
They sprayed the batch with a fungicide to defend against surprises and were closely supervised by Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries quarantine staff.
It took 12 hours to prepare their portion of the shipment: 300 boxes of green bananas.
“We even quarantined the whole area here to make sure it was pristine for the container,” said Ms. Coyle.
Always looking to improve, the Ah Liki farm sent a batch of bananas to New Zealand last June as a trial run.
“We wanted to work out the logistics of how to make shipments as easy and streamlined as possible, and we are always looking for things to fix as we go along,” said Ms. Coyle.
Last time, they learned to fix some farming practices and their packaging methods.
President of the Banana Growers Association, Tuisuga Sofara Aveau said New Zealand has set out a clear quarantine pathway through which everything must be channelled and he is confident this shipment will succeed.
“This is the first time we have attempted it for a long time and we hope we have followed everything required of us,” he said.
“Hopefully we can learn from this to see if there are any problems or any obstacles we need to address.”