Apia Samoa Pacific Agriculture Week. Everyone talks about rural migration into the city, lured by the ideals of prestige and better paying jobs in a comfortable office. But one man is bucking that trend.
Sala Sagato Tuiafiso went from government executive to being this year’s taro farmer of the year, placing first for best taro and best ta’amu at the annual Samoa Agriculture Show.
Sala had a long career in the public service as a meteorologist, working in areas that included policy development around renewable energy.
He kept the weekends free for his real passion which was in farming.
Eventually the call from the land became too strong and he left behind the air conditioned office and stationary lifestyle to become a full time commercial farmer in 2015.
“Sitting in the office all day long is boring”, he said.
Sala is developing 185 acres of leased land from the government and plants between 14,000 to 18,000 taro a month from tissue culture.
He sells at the local market but also exports weekly to American Samoa and is looking to explore the US market next year.
Last year his business turned over close to WST$500,000 and Sala forecasts that figure to be much higher in the next fiscal year.
What’s his secret? Slow and steady wins the race he says.
“I don’t run – I just go at a slow even pace, then I analyse and improve things before moving forward,” he said.
“It took me an adaptive three years to get to where I am now. Some people expect a lot of money in the first year but if you want to seriously invest in your farm – expect losses for up to 2-3 years,” says Sala.
“After that it all comes back if you plan well,”
Sala stresses the “plan well” part saying that the crops you choose to plant must fit the land, not the man.
“Choose your crop according to the land and conditions it suits. Just because a taro grows well in a different district, doesn’t mean it will have the same outcome on your plantation.”
Persistence and following due diligence despite the many challenges that come with commercial farming have paid off and this farmer doesn’t have any trouble finding employees, and he pays his workers more than the minimum wage.
“I have six permanent staff and between 18 – 20 casual workers. I pay $50 tala per person per day as well as provide morning tea and lunch. They enjoy working three days and take the rest of the week off to do chores at home.”
Following the guidance of your heart while taking care of your family can be a risky business and Sala has the white hairs to prove it but is happier because he enjoys what he does.
Switching to commercial farming means better cash flow and he can employ more people and take care of his family.
More importantly he can invest in his children’s education which is the number one priority in their family but he adds that getting involved in the family farm is equally as important.
”I’m very serious about education and my kids are doing well and they go to private schools. Of course I encourage them to get involved in the farm after school and during the holidays – give them a taste of farm life.”