Plans to send New Zealand watermelons from Tonga last week were postponed, sparking claims the information released about the arrangement was just made up to arouse growers’ hopes.
A reliable source claimed the information, which was released by the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, was made up by authorities to deflect the growers’ demand for government and private company compensation.
As Kaniva News reported earlier, some growers borrowed thousands of pa’anga to grow watermelons. It is understood Tongan farmers planted a large number of acres of watermelons for export to New Zealand.
Exports to New Zealand were blocked after fruit flies were found on the melons.
Watermelons have flooded small local markets in Tonga. Photos seen by Kaniva News showed watermelons stacked up at tax allotments and residential properties. Watermelons were also seen being used to feed pigs.
Kaniva News followed up the news with New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industry two weeks ago.
We asked the MPI whether or not it was true there was a plan in place to lift the ban soon.
“The suspension remains in place and we are working closely with the Tongan Ministry of Agriculture on the fruit fly issue,” the Ministry said.
“That work is currently being done virtually due to COVID related travel restrictions.
“The length of the suspension will depend on how quickly Tongan authorities can investigate the situation and put measures in place to assure New Zealand that their treatment processes are working. That said, the work is progressing well.”
A source claimed the Ministry of Quarantine was disorganised and lacked people with the right skills to do the jobs.
The source also claimed it appeared attempts to unblock exporting of watermelons to New Zealand was not a priority for the government.
The source said attempts to convince New Zealand authorities that Tonga would only send watermelons that were safe from any infection appeared to be taking longer than expected.
Kaniva News asked Trade Minister Sāmiu Vaipulu to comment on the matters and explain why last week’s plan to resume exports was postponed.
He said there were things that still needed to be completed in the process.
Growers who exported their melons through the government had been paid 50 percent of their price and the government was looking at paying for the melons which were destroyed in New Zealand.
“We have made an agreement with the growers,” Hon. Vaipulu said, but did not give any details of the agreement.
He said the shipment containing the infected melons was from a private company and it affected Tonga’s permit to send any more melons to New Zealand.
“Work was underway to establish a more organised system because it was a private shipment which was infected,” Hon. Vaipulu said in Tongan.
“So there was need for the government and the growers to work together on this.”