Maintaining Tonga’s sweet watermelon trade: Export pathway training supports women in agriculture
Tonga is looking to further strengthen its existing watermelon export pathway to New Zealand and explore innovative ways to expand trade opportunities for its horticulture sector.
New Zealand generally imports 800-1,000 tonnes from Tonga and Australia during the third quarter of the year before local supplies become available.
To maintain the trade of the sweet fruit, the Tonga Watermelon Export Pathway (TWET), in collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand supported Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus (PHAMA Plus) Program, organised a training this week focusing facilitated by postharvest scientist from the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research (PFR) Dr Guinevere Ortiz.
Through PHAMA Plus support, Dr Ortiz is in Tonga for three weeks to work with growers, exporters and government and share her expertise on improving harvesting and post-harvest-handling. The training specifically targeted women watermelon growers and workers at Nishi Trading, women staff from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests (MAFF) and the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development (MTED).
“In Tonga, women have stepped up in significant roles in agriculture either directly or supporting in production, processing, marketing and even export to overseas markets. And most importantly right here, it is satisfying seeing women taking pro-active roles by participating in the training, working together to share their knowledge skills on agricultural harvesting and post harvesting handling of watermelons and other fresh exports commodities,” Australian High Commission First Secretary Development Ms Cassie Cohen said while opening the workshop.
With the island kingdom currently in its watermelon harvest and export season, the acting TWET chairperson Ms Siutoni Tupou said the training was timely in addressing some of the post harvesting and quality issues encountered by fresh watermelon exports.
“The taskforce’s aim with this training is to identify improvements that would ensure good quality watermelon arrives in New Zealand and export costs for growers and exporters are minimised. The technical support from PHAMA Plus and PFR not only helps the horticulture sector strengthen proper crop management and post-harvest handling but also enables the mentoring of Tongan women involved in the growing and exporting of watermelon through this training,” Ms Tupou said.
PHAMA Plus has supported the development of Tonga’s watermelon export industry since 2011 through technical assistance to regain and maintain market access to New Zealand following operational issues and biosecurity audits conducted by New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries.
“Supporting improvements to this pathway is one of the major areas of focus for PHAMA’s work in Tonga. We’re pleased to support the watermelon industry and the Tongan Government through MAFF and MTED with the required technical support and guidance that can lead to consistent exports,” said PHAMA Plus Country Manager Mr Tevita Lautaha said.
“A key area of our work is ensuring that emerging women growers and staff in private sector and government partner agencies involved in the horticultural export pathways are empowered and visible throughout the value chain.
PHAMA Plus is currently supporting interventions in Tonga’s horticultural sector, including watermelons, to build partnerships between growers and exporters to increase export volumes and quality.