Farmers appeal to USDA to add bananas to approved commodities
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — At least two local farmers have joined the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce in lobbying the US Agriculture Department to include bananas on the list of specialty crops covered under the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which assists “commercial farmers”.
According to USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) notice, subsistence farmers, or farmers growing crops for personal consumption, are not eligible for this program that provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant market costs.
“Bananas are not eligible for this program,” said USDA, which was accepting comments up to June 22nd on the notice of funding for this program. It was also accepting comments on requests that bananas or other crops be added to the list of specialty crops for this program. (Comments were accepted at www.regulations.gov.)
Prior to June 22nd, at least two local farmers submitted requests for bananas to be included in this program, according to regulations.gov public records.
One request came from Sheila Tupua-Sulu, owner and operations manager of Lepu'e Farms. She cited reasons for inclusion of bananas. For example, “prior to Coronavirus we supplied” to the School Lunch Program and price received Jan. 1 thru Jan. 17, 2020 was $2.30 a pound. Furthermore, quantity contracted thru School Lunch Program was 5,000 pounds a month and the last delivery was Mar. 18th as schools were closed due to the COVID-19 local restrictions.
She also explained that a commodity which suffered an equal or greater than 5% loss is the banana.
With closure of schools along with the school lunch program, “my farm was forced to give away most of our commodities as we had much harvest and yet our beneficiary of this commodity was no longer in operation,” she explained.
“Aside from the school lunch, restaurants were limiting their operations to a small time window, as well as dine-in was no longer allowed which decreased our sales to less than 25% of our normal deliveries,” she said and points out that the nutritional value of bananas — includes being a source of vitamin C and aiding in digestion and gastrointestinal issues.
She also informed USDA that, culturally bananas is one of the most important crops in the Samoan diet.
“Bananas are as indigenous as the people of American Samoa. Samoans rely on their banana crops as it is well adapted to our tropical climate, as it is not reliant on inorganic means to flourish, it is perpetual as well as self sustaining,” she said.
Another farmer informed USDA that “banana farmers are the most impacted farmers in American Samoa.”
“While other crops are still being sold in stores, banana farmers are not able to sell much produce,” the farmer said. “These farmers are one of the biggest portion of local produce. Please support local farmers.”
According to the USDA, “romaine lettuce” is a specialty crop covered by CFAP, but a local aquaponic farmer proposed adding other types of lettuce.
“We are aquaponic MUIR lettuce growers in American Samoa. While the demand for this type of lettuce is high, our production has slowed down since March due to the COVID-19 restrictions here,” the grower wrote to USDA. “Please take other types of lettuce into consideration.”
The local office USDA-FSA is currently accepting applications for the CFAP, but by appointment only due to national COVID-19 safety measures. To make an appointment to file an application please call 684-633-1031 ext 2.
For more information about the CFAP website at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap The deadline to file a CFAP application is August 28, 2020.