A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
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Thursday, August 03, 2006
Posted 5:04 PM by Luigi
Award-Winning Businesswoman Revives Tongan Taro Trade
From Manukau City's website.
After being crowned last year's Pacific Business Person of the Year, Sulia Va'enuku has not rested on her laurels.
She has embarked on a new entrepreneurial challenge - that is both growing her business and helping lift the economic prospects of her struggling home country, Tonga.
Sulia, who runs Otahuhu-based Morning Star Freight Ltd, says the award was 'a big surprise' and gave her renewed confidence in her business abilities.
Sulia and her late husband set up the company 15 years ago to service the Auckland Pacific Island community. When he died in 2000 Sulia took over the reigns, and later enrolled in tertiary studies to expand her business and shipping knowledge.
She is currently completing a diploma in shipping logistics at the Manukau Institute of Technology, a diploma in shipping and freight at the New Zealand Maritime School and a post-graduate diploma in business at Auckland University.
Today, 90 per cent of the cargo the company carries is for Pacific Island individuals and businesses and the bulk of it consists of household items.
The company now employs six staff and has two offices in Tonga, another in Australia and one in Samoa. It operates throughout the Pacific region.
She was lucky to put her talents for innovation and business to a fresh challenge when she visited Tonga in June last year. But it was adversity that presented her with this new business opportunity.
During her visit home she was devastated to see the plight of taro farmers, who were finding it hard to make ends meet as one of the key export markets for this South Pacific staple food had suddenly dried up.
"It was so sad," Sulia says. "I could see many farmers and their families starting to really suffer financially.
"On many farms the taro was no longer being harvested and lay in the ground."
When presented with this hopeless scenario, Sulia - a well-known member of the Auckland island community because she is often the person they turn to when they want to send goods back home - knew she had to do something to help.
Carving Out New Market for Taro
What she ended up doing was to create a new market for taro in New Zealand. Turning taro importer, Sulia came up with an innovative way of boosting taro sales - by freezing the vegetable.
She says this had never been done before because taro does not lend itself to traditional freezing preparation methods.
Sulia came up with a new method based on skills she learnt while studying for the diploma in shipping and freight.
As well as carving out a new market for taro, frozen taro brings other benefits. One of the biggest drawbacks of importing fresh taro is that it has to be fumigated before it can be sold. This not only raises importing costs and therefore pushes up prices but also affects its taste, Sulia says.
Sulia's frozen taro sells at lower wholesale prices than the fresh variety and is also now being exported to Australia, where she has set up a branch. In New Zealand, Auckland is the main market for the taro and it also sells in Hamilton, Tauranga and Gisborne.
In developing the market, Sulia had to educate retailers and consumers about the benefits of frozen taro and she has been pleased to receive lots of positive comments. "People generally say that it tastes better because it is free from the chemicals and they find it more convenient to cook because it has been peeled."
During the past two months she has shipped more than 80 tonnes of frozen taro to New Zealand and Australia. Her next step is to expands it sales in New Zealand market and develop more international markets for frozen taro.
She is also planning to expand her core freighting business. This means exploring new markets for Morning Star's cost-effective shipping and high level of personalised service that ensures customers can feel secure that their belongings will arrive in one piece.
Sulia honed her customer service skills while working as a valet at the former five-star Regent Hotel (now Stamford Plaza) in the 1980s.Here she received formal training in providing excellent customer service and looked after the needs and wants of VIP guests. She met many movie stars and other celebrities and international statesmen while working there, including Rajiv Gandhi, General Sitiveni Rabuka, Luciano Pavarotti and Olivia Newton-John.
Morning Star Freight's office and warehouse complex is located down a drive in a residential area of central Otahuhu. In the main office, a tapa cloth adorns the wall behind Sulia's desk, and on this she has hung a framed copy of her award.
Sulia is excited about the company's future growth. As well as working long hours at work, Sulia teaches Sunday school at her local Tongan church. This busy mother of three children aged 16,10 and 8 often wonders how she does it all.
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