Chris Delany / Stuff
Vanilla is one of Tonga’s main exports.
A vanilla importer, Heilala Vanilla, says his crops in Tonga survived the tsunami, but volcanic ash could destroy the plantation.
Vanilla is one of the island nation’s biggest exports.
“Uncertainty is very difficult,” said Heilala Vanilla CEO Jennifer Boggiss.
Boggiss said the company’s vanilla crops were above sea level and therefore unscathed when the tsunami hit the islands after a massive volcanic eruption on Saturday.
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Defense Minister Peeni Henare said a C-130 Hercules would be sent to Tonga today to drop off supplies and provisions.
“The only concern we have is the impact of the ash rains on the plants,” she said.
“If the ash stays on the plants long enough it will impact the plant, and obviously it’s not just vanilla but all crops, so it will impact other Tonga export crops like yams and squashes.”
The eruption sent a thick layer of ash into the sky, contaminating water supplies and cutting communications.
Volcanic ash is a mixture of rock, mineral and glass particles and can cause eye, nose and lung irritation, as well as respiratory problems.
Tonga has a small export economy based on exports of vanilla, fish and agricultural products, as well as tourism.
The country’s main trading partners were New Zealand, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.
Squash, coconuts, bananas, and vanilla pods were the major crops, and agricultural exports accounted for two-thirds of total exports.
Tonga exported $2.01 million worth of products to New Zealand in 2019. Imports from New Zealand totaled $47.6 million, including sawn timber, dairy products and services of travel.
The vanilla harvest season runs from May to September, then the vanilla is dried and exported to New Zealand in October.
But without any means of communication with his Tongan staff, Boggiss said it was a waiting game.