New facility to improve export compliance for Tongan handicrafts

A handicrafts inspection facility was opened at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries (MAFFF) export processing ground in Nukualofa, Tonga last week. This will ease capacity constraints in the Nukualofa facility which also caters for the fumigation and inspection of rootcrops, watermelons and other produce in preparation for export.

Developed in collaboration between the MAFFF and the Australian and New Zealand-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program, the facility is part of the program’s overall efforts to expand exports and benefit the people of Tonga.

Women prepare for the opening of the handicraft inspection facility in Nukualofa, Tonga. (Photo used with permission from Matangi Tonga.)

Australia’s High Commissioner to Tonga, Andrew Ford, was the guest of honour at the event.  He said the launch of the facility will improve economic integration across the region and people who make handicrafts have a better opportunity to export their products to Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the Pacific.

“The need for this dedicated facility was identified in 2013, as part of a study of existing export infrastructure. Fine mats, tapa and other handicrafts items were previously inspected in the main building of the MAFFF facility, this was far from ideal due to needing more space, being able to keep the area clean and having good lighting to allow the inspections to be done well. The project commenced in 2014 and following several stages of construction and further improvements to the interior and exterior I’m delighted the facility is now available for use,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries, Semisi Fakahau, said the opening of the facility highlighted the importance of handicrafts as a commodity.

“Handicrafts are an important source of livelihood for our communities. Not only that, handicrafts are the largest contributor to Tonga’s household subsistence income. The availability of the new facility for the inspection of handicrafts will support many people, in particular those who are involved directly in making handicrafts and not only that it will also help to increase the industry and also exports.”

Guests inside the handicrafts inspection facility at the Queen Salote Wharf, Nuku’alofa. (Photo used with permission from Matangi Tonga)

Handicrafts prepared for export are often informally sent through private pathways such as family connections and katoanga (mat exchanges). The volume of handicrafts passing through quarantine each year is estimated at a value of about TOP10 million (approximately AU$6 million). Handicraft making is primarily performed by women with production and sales being anecdotally a significant source of income for women throughout Tonga.

Prior to its establishment, fine mats, tapa and other handicraft items were inspected in the main building of the MAFF facility at Queen Salote wharf. With overseas handicraft buyers expecting higher quality products, the new facility will allow for improved compliance with stringent biosecurity requirements.

The importance of handicraft manufacturing and export was recognised in the Tonga Agriculture Sector Plan with the need for support identified for a sustainable production of mulberry and pandanus as a source of income for diversified farmers and more direct support for women who choose weaving and tapa-making as a more permanent rural profession. The development of this facility is a strong example of the type of direct support.

Handicraft maker Ana Matoto who had some of her products on display at the launch said the facility would be helpful and convenient.

“I work with our women’s group and we send valuable tapa and fine mats overseas and this is more convenient as we do not have to squash in with others who are rushing to send their products. It’s nice to have this new clean facility,” she said.

For more information, contact Paula Mosa’ati at or on +676 28-128

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