4 Aug 2014

Cooks short of produce growers

11:40 am on 4 August 2014

The Cook Islands Secretary of Agriculture says a shortage of growers and land are the main reasons behind a significant decline in local produce.

Dr Matairangi Purea says there's a huge demand for local vegetables, but there's not enough home-grown produce to supply that demand.

He says about 20 percent of fresh produce found in supermarkets is grown locally, but this, and supplies at farmers markets, sell out quickly in the mornings.

"We don't really have enough growers. Our good growers, their age group is between 45 and 60, and no young ones. We are trying our best to recruit young ones but they are more attracted to the tourism employment. Apart from that, we also have less land used for agriculture, although there's a lot of vacant land, but the owners are in New Zealand."

Dr Purea says the government is trying to attract young farmers, and is hoping to employ them in growing, so they don't leave for work overseas.

The Business Trade and Investment Board says there needs to be a national programme to revive agriculture and local production.

Its chief executive of the Business Trade and Investment Board, Terry Rangi, says a 'Go Local' campaign has also been supported by retailers, tourism operators and hoteliers to buy local produce.

"The biggest problem that retailers have had is getting enough supply. Farmers do need help, the small loan that we were able to provide is only a small loan and I guess if we had more funds we'd be able to provide more assistance. But those areas are just part and parcel of what needs to be a national programme to revive agriculture and local production."

Terry Rangi says the small loans will only help in the short to medium term.