22 Oct 2013

American Samoa authorities to investigate pesticide use by foreign farmers

5:50 pm on 22 October 2013

Foreign farms in American Samoa could be expelled from the country's school lunch programme if they are found to be using illegal pesticides.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture called a meeting with Asian farmers and landowners last week to discuss safe pesticide use.

Our correspondent in American Samoa, Monica Miller, says authorities recently found an unusually high residue of chemicals on some vegetables.

MONICA MILLER: Because there's now a growing number of Asian farmers who are selling to the school lunch programme, there's concern that some of these farms may not be using approved pesticides. Because under local and federal law, only pesticides that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency can be imported into the territory and used. So because of reports that have been received by the Department of Agriculture and the EPA they decided to call a meeting of Asian farmers and the landowners whose land the Asian farmers farm on. And this took place last week. And the rules of the game were, essentially, explained. And the farmers were told that if the inspectors that go and inspect the farms find that any illegal pesticides are being used, that's grounds for expulsion from the school lunch programme.

AMELIA LANGFORD: Do you think this is a legitimate move or do you think this is a little bit political?

MM: Me, personally, I think some people might say the authorities are being racist and trying to protect things for American Samoans. But if you look at the land situation here there is some grounds for the department to be concerned, especially when you just can't compete. We might end up with the same situation which is now the way it is here in Pago Pago, where the retail business is fully controlled by Asians and it's very hard for Samoan-owned businesses to compete.

AL: What are the farmers saying about this? Have they made any statement about their pesticides?

MM: Most of them don't speak English so it's very hard to communicate with them. And that's the other concern, because only pesticides that are labelled as English can be imported here and we just don't know if they're able to apply the instructions or whether they're just importing chemicals that don't' qualify or comply with the labelling instructions that the EPA has. But there's evidence that some of the chemicals that are not allowed have already been found on some of the vegetables that have been inspected by the agriculture department.

AL: So where to from here?

MM: It's now up to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to go out and inspect and then really enforce what they've said, which is if anyone is found using pesticides that are illegal then they will be kicked out of the programme.

Monica Miller also says the programme was designed to put money back into the economy by buying crops from local farmers.