Agriculture & Mariculture Opportunities In The CNMI

Agriculture & Mariculture Opportunities In The CNMI

Agriculture has figured prominently in the small economies of Rota and Tinian but to a much lesser extent on Saipan. Cattle ranching on Tinian has been practiced for some years. Rota has long been recognized as the principal farming island of the Northern Marianas. Currently only several thousand acres are being farmed compared with the 40,000 acres under cultivation before World War II.

The cultivation, processing and preservation of fresh fruits and vegetables on a small scale as well as horticulture activities such as flowers, nurseries, etc., offer potential for profitable endeavors for new enterprises and expansion of existing activities. While the islands' land area and resident population must be considered small by Asian and American benchmarks, the islands' transient visitors substantially increase the number of people on island on any given day. This represents a market largely untapped by producers of local agricultural and fishery products. Five hundred fifty thousand tourists a year and our own nonresident and resident population translates into some 62.5 million meals per year assuming three meals a day are consumed by each person.

That is one of the reasons we see so many restaurants on island. People are becoming more health conscious which means they are consuming more fruits and vegetables. We import pineapples from the Philippines and Hawaii, bananas grown in Nicaragua are shipped here by way of California. What isn't purchased directly from the United States comes in by way of Guam. Products produced in the United States must be shipped over the Pacific and if not transported directly to Saipan are off loaded at Guam. When shipped to Guam the federal Jones Act requires that cargo be transported on American Flag vessels with their expensive freight rates.

The cargo arrives at Guam where a port charge is added, then it moves into a warehouse on the island. When a Saipan merchant orders from a wholesaler on Guam the order comes out of the warehouse – back to the port and another Guam port charge is paid. Then the barge charge is added and, upon arrival, the Saipan port charge is levied. All these charges are added to the sales price which makes everything on Saipan, Tinian and Rota very expensive. Any substantial quantity of locally produced food would lower the cost of living for everyone in the Northern Marianas. The introduction of a government sponsored crop insurance program could stimulate an increase in agricultural activity on all three islands. It is unlikely, however, that Saipan will ever have a major agricultural sector as it appears to be evolving directly into a completely service oriented economy.

One constraint limiting an increase in farming activities on Saipan is the difficulty and expense encountered in assembling a sufficiently large tract of land from a number of small parcels where mechanization would be justified in order to achieve the necessary economies of scale. Then too, land is both expensive and somewhat limited. Many times there are more lucrative alternate uses for such parcels such as for hotels, apartments and residential dwellings. Uses for which too much rain or too little makes no difference. Before continuing with the theme of this article, consider what 62.5 million meals a year means. It all has to be ingested, digested and ejected – some 31,350 tons of waste – and you get some idea of the importance of a solid waste treatment plant and the need to protect the lagoon. Don’t believe that the last meal is carried off by departing passengers, they are replaced by an equal number of inbound visitors. In considering horticulture – there is a substantial amount of money to be made in growing tropical flowers for the cut flower market – they have high value in relation to bulk and can bear the air freight charge associated with their transport to Asian markets.

One cannot economically fly coconuts to market because of their low value but you can fly cut flowers because of their high value. Aqua-culture is another endeavor which should not be overlooked as a potential economic activity for some “selected” land parcels – particularly the growing of shrimp. Shrimp ponds belong on land, not in the sea as control must be maintained over the “grow out” environment, this can better be done in a pond situated on land. The species that appears to be be best suited is the Penneid variety, a marine, (saltwater) creature, known as P. vannamei and P. stylirostris. Briefly the process is: – Develop a pond, for example, one acre in size which can accommodate a column of sea water 3 feet deep. The water must be filtered to remove predators and competitors. – Add fertilizer prior to stocking to enhance the natural food chain. – Then stock the ponds with juvenile shrimp, ( this seed stock will have to be purchased from a shrimp hatchery). – Add finely ground Purina Marine ration daily until the shrimp reach an average weight of one gram, after which pellitized Purina Marine Ration is supplied. The feeding rate averages about 5 percent of the total weight of the shrimp and the food conversion averages 2.5 pounds of feed to one pound of shrimp.

The growth must be monitored weekly and the feeding rate adjusted accordingly. The water temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, ammonia and carbon dioxide must be continually monitored and the water must be changed periodically to maintain satisfactory levels of oxygen. – The shrimp are harvested, processed and packaged for marketing. The period of time required to bring the first seeded stock to market size varies with the location and temperature of the area. Before any large investment is undertaken in the Marianas, a test pond should be developed to determine the suitability of the species to this environment and a marine biologist should be involved in the process from start to finish.

The survival rate should be about 75 to 80 percent and three or more crops per year should be the optimum level for production or somewhere around 3,000 pounds of shrimp per acre per year. Because the technology for shrimp farming has not been established in the Northern Marianas, a high level of risk should be anticipated. That is the reason for recommending a pilot project first .