Concern over impacts of volcanic eruption on agriculture in Tonga

International agencies and businesses are expressing concern about the long-term impacts of the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga.

For days after the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai submarine volcano on 15 January the kingdom was covered in a blanket of volcanic ash and later soaked with acid rain.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warns the ash could delay or stunt agricultural harvests.

"With roughly 86 percent of Tongans engaged in agriculture, FAO is extremely concerned about the potential impacts across all agriculture sectors, including fisheries, crops and livestock," the FAO said in a statement shortly after the volcanic eruption and tsunami in January.

Several New Zealand companies import agricultural goods from Tonga.

One of them is Tauranga based Heilala Vanilla, which has been using Tongan vanilla to produce upmarket products since 2002.

Its chief executive, Jennifer Boggiss, said most of their vanilla is grown on the island of Vava'u which was relatively undisturbed by the eruption, but there is concern for crops on affected islands such as 'Eua.

"We have had the ash analysed by plant food research here in New Zealand, and's a bit of waiting game to see how it's gonna impact the crop from 'Eua," Ms Boggis said.

She said the ash is currently being analysed by Plant and Food research in New Zealand while the upcoming harvests will reveal the extent of the volcanic impact on crops.


 Photo: supplied Caption: Jennifer Boggiss with a Tongan worker in the vanilla vines