With concerns about the potential for an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Samoa, the nation moving into lockdown, and with no veterinarians available to her team in 2019, Volunteer Service Abroad’s assistance came at the perfect time for Principal Biosecurity, Officer Talei Fidow-Moors.

Until recently Talei led the quarantine team for the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) - a key part of protecting the country’s growing agriculture industry and for biosecurity in the Pacific region, including New Zealand.

Like many Pacific Island nations, Samoa relies on imported food products to supplement it’s own agriculture.

In 2019, Samoa was in the process of tentatively lifting its ban on imported pork products. The ban had been put in place to protect the Samoan pork producers from ASF. The disease had only recently appeared in the Pacific for the first time, turning up in Papua New Guinea killing thousands of pigs and endangering a multimillion-dollar industry.

With no local veterinarian to rely on, Talei was relieved to get support. “VSA was instrumental in providing us with key personnel from within New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) who could give expert advice on how Samoa should treat the importation of canned pork.”

“At the time we could only do testing for whether the DNA for swine fever was in there,” says Talei, “but was it in an active or inactive state? That’s something that we could not do. But we got a lot of help from the MPI team just informing us on the way forward and what import conditions we could implement until a proper risk assessment could be conducted.”

“They also helped us with sources for authentic information on animal diseases,” says Talei, “that’s a big problem for us in that we have importers coming in with the documents and we don’t know whether they are authentic, but the vets are able to work with us to make sure.”

With restrictions on travel, the remote assignment work has been about filling a skill gap. However, Talei anticipates MAF’s ongoing relationship with VSA and MPI will start to build more capacity in Samoa’s biosecurity work as in-person training becomes available “We’re looking forward to when the lockdown conditions are taken away because I know we will gain even more as people can come in and train a lot more people hands-on.”

Given the importance of Samoa’s agriculture to its ongoing food security and export economy, growing the biosecurity skill base will be vital.