Agriculture has long been the core sector of the industries in Niue. While subsistence agriculture form the basis for the strength of agriculture to continue to function, commercial agriculture despite of being small still have potentials to offer good returns on investment. There are still potential areas in Niue’s agricultural sector that is still yet to be fully developed and explored.
Most households on Niue do have some forms of involvement with the agriculture sector, most grow their own taros or their own consumption, some of their taros were also sold to exporters, and some exported to friends and relatives in New Zealand. Some small operators grow vegetables, and sell them in the market in Alofi. In the 70s, copra, passion fruit and limes were the main crops generating Niue’s foreign exchange earnings, cyclones and drought destroyed these crops while pricing factor limit Niue’s ability to export copra to overseas markets. In the 80s Niue was exporting taros, green coconuts and zucchinis to the New Zealand market. The 90s was dominated by the export of taros also to the New Zealand market. Niue’s taros is of very high quality and is in demand by other markets as well, even American Samoa in the late 90s become the major importer of our taros.
Commercial quantities of agricultural products such as passionfruit and limes were exported from Niue in the past and fresh taro continues to be exported to New Zealand. Export of passionfruit and limes suffered due to limited production capacity and could not compete with larger international suppliers, but as of 2008 vanilla, noni and taros are Niue's main export crops.
At present, relentless efforts has focused on development of agricultural products with proven commercial merits, particularly vanilla, nonu, taro and other crops with commercial exports potential. Vanilla and Nonu is fast becoming popular crops for growers with the formation of the Vanilla and Nonu programme with the objective of expanding commercial farming within 3 years.
Agriculture is largely subsistence based, and its development is hindered by limited fertile land, lack of surface water and occasional droughts and cyclones. Rainwater and groundwater are the only sources of water on the island. The principal crops are taro, yams, bananas, cassava and coconuts. Taro is the most important export crop, but the export market of perishables is hampered by limited air and shipping services.
Agriculture is largely subsistence based, and its development is hindered by limited fertile land, however with the introduction of new faming practices and heavy earth moving machinery, taro is realised to have had great export potential. Whilst taro export slowly grew in popularity paralleled to high migration flows to New Zealand and Australia, exports of passionfruit, limes, papaya and coconuts which were primary export produce of Niue are no longer viable export products due to quirks of nature. Commercial farming is predominantly through shifting cultivation using bulldozers. Although labour extensive and time consuming, receipts from taro export provides a lifeline for dedicated local growers and the Niuean community as a whole. With a dwindling population and an economic downturn, dedicated growers relies solely on taro export receipts as their main source of income for their families thus maintaining family livelihood and security. The main constraints facing the industry are related directly to transport (shipping and air services) and market conditions being high with freight costs, irregular shipping schedules, volatile market conditions and inconsistent supply and export quality. Other viable options are currently being considered which include researching and developing ways to strategically package, promote and market frozen taro to distant markets. Frozen processed taro (raw or cooked) has great potential in that it eliminates quarantine risks, prolong shelve life and conveniently available in different options to the end consumer.
Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, which is the largest family of flowering plants in the world, with over 35,000 species worldwide. Vanilla is the most labour-intensive agricultural product in the world. It takes between 18 months and three years from planting a cutting of the orchid vine till the plant produces orchids. The orchids bloom and die within a few hours unless they are pollinated by hand. The beans (which are actually seed-pods) must stay on the vine for nine months before being harvested. The beans then go through a curing, drying, and resting process for several months. Each vanilla bean is handled hundreds of times before it's ready to use! Vanilla is one of the world's most popular flavours, being widely used in ice-cream and other dairy products, dessert, chocolate, biscuits and sauces such as crème anglaise. But much of the market is served by artificial substitutes for the real thing. Niue vanilla exports to date looks promising, this has incited the GON to provide support for the growers with the formation of the Vanilla programme aimed at encouraging growers to grow vanilla at the same time expanding commercial farming base to 60 hectares within 3 years. Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla Tahitensis) comes from planifolia stock that was taken to Tahiti. Somehow it mutated, possibly in the wild. It is now classified as a separate species as it's considerably different in appearance and flavour from Bourbon vanilla. It is similar, however, to Vanilla Pompona, a variety of vanilla rarely used commercially, but that has religious and cultural significance with the Totonacas of Mexico, the first cultivators of vanilla. They consider Pompona the queen of vanilla, and she is always planted in a prominent place wherever they grow vanilla. Because vanilla is a very labour-intensive agricultural product, vanilla is expensive. Tahitian vanilla has always been more expensive than Mexican and Bourbon vanillas. This is especially true now as it is less readily available. Vanilla has over 250 organic components that comprise its distinctive flavour and fragrance. Although scientists have been trying to genetically clone and reproduce vanilla in a laboratory environment for the past 25 years, they haven't been able to capture the elusive and distinctive qualities that make it so very popular.
The Nonu processing plant located at Vaiea became operational since October 2004 with capacity to produce up to 60,000 kg of raw Nonu per month. The Vaiea farm had planted 22,000 nonu plants over 130 acres but because of a viral infection the total number of plants remaining is 18,000. Another farm was established at Mutalau with 6,000 nonu planted but this was created as a Sustainable Land Management Project.
Vanilla and nonu are fast becoming popular crops for growers with the formation of the Vanilla and Nonu Programme with the objective of expanding commercial farming within 3 years.
A recent investment by a New Zealand company in a honey export venture in Niue is one example of potential ventures in the agricultural sector that focus on market niche opportunities in overseas markets. Since the takeover, new owners have successfully built the number of hives up to 2000, however suffered a setback reverting to feed the bees with artificial sugar after cyclone Heta. This has also affected their certification as organic honey.