FOLLOWING two successful trials in Taveuni and Naitasiri, the Taro Pathway Committee undertook a third trial at Waraiyawa Village in Namosi this week.
The consignment of 1.2 tonnes has been processed and will be exported this week by Ben's Trading Limited, a major taro exporter in Fiji.
The committee is designed to improve the quality of taro being exported by improving post-harvest handling techniques that will improve profits for growers and exporters.
The Taro Pathway Committee organised a meeting with the dalo farmers at Waraiyawa Village in Namosi after harvesting dalo, which officers from the Department of Agriculture and Biosecurity Authority of Fiji presented farmers with information on the importance of the Taro Pathway.
The farmers were also informed on improved handling procedures for dalo. Previously, bags of dalo have been thrown into trucks and transported down very rough roads, or rolled down to a certain place where it is then collected and loaded onto a truck. This causes damage, reduced quality, increased losses, and lower prices. The Department of Agriculture is working together with the AusAID-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to consolidate and improve taro production and processing methods so that the premium quality is maintained and pest interceptions are minimised and or mitigated.
Developing the taro pathway is one such initiative. The pathway will reduce the number of pests that are being intercepted by our markets overseas, resulting in reduced rejections and losses for growers and exporters
According to the Chairperson of the Taro Pathway Development Committee and PHAMA National Market Access Coordinator, Losalini Leweniqila, the purpose of the meeting with farmers was also to introduce the use of crates and emphasise the importance of using them to help maintain the million dollar dalo industry.
"The pathway is also aimed at improving the quality of taro that is being exported," said Ms Leweniqila.
"For commodities or products that are being exported, the standard procedure is for that product to have a defined pathway and that has not been the case for taro.
"In all these years that we have been exporting taro, it has been a 'free-for-all'," said Ms Leweniqila.
"What that means is when there is a pest interception overseas we are not able to identify where the taro came from so that the problem can be rectified," she added.
A pathway enables the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji to do a trace back or trace forwards if there is a problem at the overseas market. "The results from the first and second trials have been successful with no interceptions in Australia, which is a positive on the progress of pathway," said Ms Leweniqila.
The experiment included the use of plastic field bins or crates for the storage of taro instead of the sacks that are currently being used.
"Because of the high number of quarantine pest interceptions that had been occurring at our overseas markets and the high costs of fumigation or reshipment of taro consignments, we decided to experiment with the use of the plastic field bins as well as conduct dipping trials," she added.
"As an exporting country, it is our responsibility to ensure that our products are free of quarantine pests, that they are clean, safe and of course, good to eat! Problems can arise when the product is not handled in the right way on its initial journey from the farm to the market."
"This improved post-harvest handling which is identified in the pathway should be able to improve how we handle the product after it's harvested, until it reaches the market" she added.
* Riteshni Singh is with the Information and Communications Section of the Ministry of Primary Industries.