Tonga watermelon exports to New Zealand

TongaWatermelonPathwayTonga has an existing export pathway for watermelons to NZ, based on mandatory fumigation. Shipments started in late 2010, and demand continues to grow with a forecast market value of $2.5 million Pa’anga or about A$1.35 million per year.

Supporting improvements to this pathway is the single major focus of PHAMA’s work in Tonga at present. First up, PHAMA was asked to review the export pathway from farm gate to on-arrival inspection in NZ.

The aim was to identify improvements that would ensure good quality product arrives in NZ, and export costs for growers and exporters are minimised.

Particular emphasis was placed on reviewing fumigation delivery, following incidences last year with fruit damage possibly caused by fumigation problems.

This review was completed last July, producing 19 key recommendations covering fumigation delivery; procedural documentation and record keeping; phytosanitary certification; integrity and in-field control of target pest species; and development of a systems approach based on non-host fruit fly status of watermelon and other products as a possible alternative to mandatory fumigation. Tonga’s MAFFF and industry have now agreed (no mean feat!) on an implementation plan, prepared by PHAMA, covering these recommendations.

This paves the way for remedial work to proceed. Among other things, work will involve updating existing management and fumigation manuals, training quarantine staff and growers to meet existing protocol requirements, and carrying out field trials relating to the development of a systems approach, as a possible alternative to mandatory fumigation.

Some recommendations concerning improved fumigation delivery have already been implemented by Tonga Quarantine and industry. Implementation of other recommendations will be progressively supported by PHAMA over the next 18 months. Subsequent to the development of the implementation plan, NZ MAF completed their own audit of the pathway last October, which reconfirmed many of the issues already identified by PHAMA.

The fact that PHAMA is in the process of helping Tonga to address these issues almost certainly avoided a far more severe response from NZ MAF, including possible closure of the pathway. Also related to the water melon export pathway,

PHAMA is in the process of installing a 110 kVa back-up generator for the Tonga postharvest and fumigation facility, which should be commissioned in time for the beginning of the 2012 water melon export season, all going smoothly.

This will eliminate risk that consignments are treated incorrectly during power outages, requiring a second treatment with the accompanying risk of damage to the consignment.

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