Fiji mission to boost NZ taro consumption

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand facilitated a Fijian government mission to address the declining demand for taro in New Zealand and plan a turnaround.

The visitors with Fiji High Commissioner to NZ Filimone Waqabaca (centre, sitting), PTI NZ Trade & Invest Commissioner Michael Greenslade (sitting at extreme left) and Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong (right).

The Taro Market Exploratory Mission to New Zealand and Samoa in September included Ministry of Agriculture Officials, Economy and a representative from the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Programme (PHAMA).

PTI Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong said the visit highlighted the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture’s serious commitment to building a sustainable and formal export industry to New Zealand. The delegation investigated a range of tools from the value of root crops, the types of root crops demanded, marketing and the development of new recipes and support from celebrity chefs.

Taro is one of Fiji’s largest agricultural exports, with about 10,000 tonnes valued at around $21 million over the past five years.  New Zealand accounts for some 65 per cent of the figure.  Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture statistics 2015 showed New Zealand imported about 5500 tonnes worth approximately FJ$12 million whilst Australia imported 2270 tonnes valued at FJ$7.29million.

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga were the biggest exporters of taro to New Zealand between 2006 and 2016.  However, overall demand for taro to New Zealand has declined, plummeting in mid-2011 from some 7.5 thousand tonnes to a touch above 5,000 tonnes in 2013 followed by a continued downward trend.

Although Fiji remained New Zealand’s biggest taro supplier, their taro exports reflected the same trend, slipping from about 6,900 tonnes in 2011 to 4,000 tonnes in 2013, and then to less than 2,000 tonnes in 2015.

The visit to New Zealand and Samoa was a timely exercise. The delegation wanted to explore the market, assess the overall demand, identify major challenges and come up with new strategies to boost exports. But it also provided valuable insights.

Although Fiji has just over 50 per cent of New Zealand’s taro market share, Samoa has risen from the ashes of the Taro Leaf Blight that decimated taro export industries. Samoa’s share of the taro market is now around 43 per cent. The comeback was highlighted in 2015 when Samoa’s taro exports rose to a few thousand tonnes short of matching Fiji’s taro exports to New Zealand before diverging.

Samoa launched a concerted effort to increase its taro exports through a new campaign in August promoting fresh and frozen taro to its New Zealand and Australian based Samoan communities. The Samoan Government is imploring the local communities in Australia and New Zealand and respond to their efforts by buying Samoan taro.

In New Zealand, the Pacific Island communities are the main consumers of taro led by Samoan consumers and the direct appeal to them could an influence on their choices.

The increasing price of taro, the changing tastes of young Pacific Island consumers, cyclonic weather patterns, however, may also have impacted demand with the landed price of taro per kilo in New Zealand increasing from around $1.25 a kilo in 2011 to around $2.70 in 2016.

However, another important factor that could also be having an effect is the import of taro coming into New Zealand through informal channels, essentially flying under the import radar.

Anecdotally, the unofficial amounts of taro brought into New Zealand could potentially be having an impact on official exports of taro. The taro sold through local markets, family and friends is of an unknown quantity because the taro is unofficially brought in, few figures are kept and the exact volumes and the precise numbers are not tracked.

For more information, please contact Ian Furlong, PTI Trade Development Manager on ianf@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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