THE Secretariat of the Pacific Community's European Union-funded Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT) project is going bananas with Fijian farmers.
The Blue Java banana, known locally as paka or vata, grows wild on Fiji's coastal areas and can occasionally be found at farmers' markets has been identified as an export potential.
A statement from the SPC said moves were under way to develop this variety commercially, primarily for use in processed fruit pulp for export markets.
Sigatoka-based Agrana Fruit Fiji Ltd is already exporting organic fruit pieces and pulp made from locally grown guavas, mangoes and bananas to Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South Korea.
For its banana pulp, the company uses the Cavendish banana, which requires the use of ascorbic acid (a costly import) to prevent oxidisation and so act as a preservative.
"The Blue Java, on the other hand, does not require preservatives because of its already high acid content. It also yields more pulp than the Cavendish, due to its thinner peel.
"But in order for Agrana to make this cost saving, it must first confirm the variety's suitability for its aseptic fruit puree market before establishing a regular supply of the Blue Java variety from banana farmers.
"This is where the FACT project is helping in a number of ways," the statement said.
FACT is helping source about five tonnes of Blue Java bananas from areas where it is naturally occurring for a processing trial at Agrana.
And in collaboration with the Fijian Ministry of Primary Industries, the project will be encouraging banana farmers in the Sigatoka area to plant Blue Java on a commercial basis.
"We could potentially export a container a month to start with, which would mean 33 tonnes of raw materials," George Fung, Agrana's general manager said.
Mr Fung is hoping there is a market for Blue Java pulp in Europe where Agrana's clients have shown an interest in importing a natural product (free of preservatives), which doesn't discolour.
FACT Project team leader Dr Lex Thomson believes it may be a timely move to develop the new variety.