For farmers and producers like Tonga’s Minoru Nishi, Managing Director of Nishi Trading Company, COVID-19 has been a double-edged hoe.
“Our exports actually increased in terms of demand from the market, and I didn’t expect that given there is a worldwide pandemic” Nishi told a Griffith Institute webinar on COVID and Pacific businesses recently.
Nishi said the problem was, while orders “were through the roof in some areas of produce”, logistics have become more challenging as time has gone on. There have been delays at borders and increased freight costs have hit the bottom line. “The good thing for us was that our exchange rate on exports was on our side but that didn’t help with imports so there’s a lot of pros and cons,” Nishi said.
Tonga watermelon exports to New Zealand-an important export crop- also hit a snag last year when fruit flies were discovered in one shipment in Auckland.
“We had 1000 tonnes confirmed orders for New Zealand alone and we were on the verge of breaking the record of exports last year and this thing happened. And government came to the table and we all worked together very quickly to try and reopen the pathway… in one week we were able to get our first airfreight commercial flight of watermelon to New Zealand.”
The level of cooperation was such that there was even a police escort of the watermelons to the airport says Nishi.
“I think what COVID has done is force the stakeholders; government, private sector and NGOs to talk to one another… and address some of these big issues.
Nishi Enterprises, which is also a diversified company, is looking at further value-added activities in its agricultural business.