Lifting the ban on Tongan watermelon coming into New Zealand is in the hands of the Tongan officials, the head of New Zealand’s biosecurity service said today.
“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,” Biosecurity New Zealand’s Director of Animal and Plant Health, Peter Thomson, said.
Thomson told Kaniva News New Zealand authorities were working with their Tongan counterparts, but work was being done virtually because of Covid-19 related closures.
“That said, the work is progressing well,” Thomson said.
There were hopes in Tonga that the melon trade to New Zealand can be up and running again this month, but a source told us it could take a while before the ban would be lifted.
“I guess there is a huge non-compliance by Tonga in this case,” the source said.
Live fruit fly larvae were detected at the New Zealand border on a consignment of watermelons from Tonga on October 13.
A week later, Chairman of the Whole House Committee, Lord Tu’i’afitu called on the government to take action immediately, easing the burden on the nation’s watermelon growers.
Kaniva News has asked Tonga’s Minister of Agriculture whether the government had helped local watermelon growers financially. We are waiting for a response.
As we reported last month, watermelon growers in Tonga have called on the government to help pay for their crops. Some farmers have borrowed thousands of pa’anga to grow watermelons.
Growers told us they were paid 50 percent of the price for the melons in Tonga and were told the other 50 percent would be paid after the melons were cleared in New Zealand for the buyers.
Jerry Prendergast from United Fresh, which represents the New Zealand produce industry, said the suspension of imports would devastate Tongan growers. He estimated the value of the outstanding imports at about $1.6-2 million.
Tonga’s two main watermelon exporters are Nishi Trading and the Tonga Farmers’ Co-operative Ltd, each of which has its own growers.
Local media have reported that the domestic price of watermelon has dropped to TP$3-5 for export quality fruit being sold by the roadside by farmers anxious to sell their melons.
At the end of last month Minoru Nishi of Nishi Trading said 100 tonnes of watermelon meant for export had been offloaded onto the domestic market with another 400 tonnes likely to be put up for sale.