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By ILIESA TORA

Nuku’alofa – August 19, 2019: 9,30am (Nuku’alofa Times): Tonga is blessed to have rich soil that yields crops in abundance.

So  much so that the annual Royal Agriculture Show in the past 20 years has showcased Tonga’s natural wealth – the fruits of the labour put in by Tongans who still till the land and work in the agriculture sector.

Their work has not gone unnoticed – with the highest power in the land leading the promotion and advancement of agriculture produce not only for local consumption but also overseas export.

Tonga has just completed its 2019 Royal Agriculture Show.

His Majesty King Tupou Vi and Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u travelled all the way from Tongatapu, where the show started, to Ha’apai, Vava’u, Niuatoputapu, Niuafo’ou and then ‘Eua to officiate at the annual event.

At the same time, His Majesty was able to speak with the farmers and encourage them on issues that are likely to challenge their own survival – especially with climate change.

‘Eua advise

In his message to the people of ‘Eua Island on August 2, His Majesty King Tupou VI asked the people to plant crops according to the commercial markets’ needs.

“’Eua is fortunate because it is close to Tongatapu. We should make use of this opportunity to plant more fruit trees needed by domestic and overseas markets. If we plant the right plantation, its value in the markets will be raised,” he said.

His Majesty also raised the need to have a stable market for Kava.

Abundance shown…local kava and kape crops on show. Photo: MEIDECC

Kava is in big demand locally and also overseas with a lot of local farmers returning to kava farming in recent years because of that demand.

“There is a need for a stable market for kava. ‘Eua now beats Vava’u in planting kava because they work according to the demand of the markets,” His Majesty said.

“These are the practices that need to be supported, as we should first assess the markets available in Tongatapu and then plant the plantation demanded by the markets accordingly.”

He said that there are also opportunities for the people of ‘Eua to plant plantation for commercial markets.

“To mitigate the impact of climate change, we should propagate variety of plantation such as replanting coconut trees to replace the old ones, fruit trees, kava and the paper mulberry trees.”

King Tupou VI also told the people of ‘Eua to prepare ahead for the Free Wesleyan Church Annual Conference next year.

The annual conference will be held on the island.

“It is time to plan in advance and plant vegetables, fruits and propagate livestock in a sustainable manner to cater for the needs of those who will be attending the event. This will be an opportunity for us to showcase that we can produce our own food here in ‘Eua.”

Vava’u’s show

In his address to the people of Vava’u on July 20, His Majesty emphasized the need to acclimatise Tonga’s food production to correspond with the changing climate.

“The global climate is getting warmer and we have to consider the seedlings that are resilient to the warming climate,” he said.

“When the degree Celsius reaches 35 the corns will not bear fruits. When the temperature reaches 39, the yams will not yield and the cassava plants will yield but with depleted nutrients.”

More local crops on show at the 2019 event. Photo: MEIDECC

He advised the people of Vava’u to change their farming approaches by planting fast-growing vegetables and the types of beans that can be picked before the harvesting season.

He highlighted the value of Vava’u producing majority of Tonga’s kava plant and vanilla to the commercial production of products but at the same time encouraged people not to disregard subsistence farming to avoid the increase of food prices.

“If we can be cautious in deciding which livestock to breed, the price of meat will be cheaper. The government can support  livestock production to replace the country’s imports such as the 50 million pa’anga spent annually. This money can be used in areas such as financing scholarships for students to study medical and purchase medical equipment.”

His Majesty acknowledged the support from Vava’u, a reminder of the spirit of the Tau Tahi which is critical to mitigating climate change.

Ha’apai message

In His Royal Address to the people of Ha’apai on July 16,  His Majesty said the theme of this year’s show ‘To’ukai mo Hono Lohu’ is associated with climate change which affects Tongans today.

“The impact of the changing climate affects not only Tonga but the world at large but at the same time we have to look for opportunities that we can utilize in order to benefit individuals, families, villages, districts and the country,” he said.

His Majesty inspecting the Agriculture Show. Photo: MEIDECC

His Majesty stated that recognising the existence of climate change through the use of sustainable farming is important.

He advised the people of Ha’apai to consider adopting Thailand’s farming method where farmers use only a half-acre of land for fish farming and to cultivate vegetables, crops and fruit trees and raise livestock.

King Tupou VI also urged Ha’apai to use sustainable farming and fishing and to plant more trees to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Seven line ministries including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Office of the Ombudsman and the Ministry of MEIDECC also set up booth displays at the event to showcase the valuable services they generously offered to the public.

Students of Hihifo Government Primary School also performed a lakalaka for the Their Majesties and distinguished guests.

Challenge for farmers

On June 22, King Tupou VI told the people of Tongatapu that climate change is a major challenge.

“The impact of climate change is evident but the question for us to consider is – What can we do to help ourselves? Climate Change brings seasonal shifts and we have to adopt new practices and methods to cope with the changing climate.”

He stated that it is important for the country to understand climate change because it has a far-reaching impact.

“This is the time for us to teach our children and train them how to earn livelihood and provide security for the family because once we passed on from this life they will know what to do since we shared our best practices and skills with them,” he said.

“We still have time and it is crucial for us to work and at the same time think about climate change – to change our mentality, practices and livelihood.”

In response to the royal address the Minister for Fisheries Hon Semisi Fakahau acknowledged the presence of Their Majesties.

He said that farmers are empowered to be resilient despite the changing climate.

Hon Fakahau said the Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Trade and Economic Developments are still encouraging people to plant the Pandanus and Mulberry trees.

He said that the Special Management Area (SMA) Program is progressing well and Cabinet has approved five new villages to be part of the program, bringing the total SMAs to 46.

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