Cook Islands Agriculture Bill 2020

Cook Islands Agriculture Bill 2020.

Cook Islands Agriculture Bill 2020.
Compiled by: Andy Kirkwood.

Contact: [firstName] @

Masthead The Agriculture Bill 2020 will repeal the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978.


This is a working draft. Published 10 Aug 2020. Updated 24 Sept 2020.


Update 23 Sept 2020: Chair of the Agriculture Bill select committee requests extension.
Report now to be tabled Dec 2020.


Submissions to the Agriculture Bill 2020

Oral submissions were made to the select committee 7 Aug 2020. Presentations were made by the Police Commissioner, National Environment Service, Business Trade Investment Board, and the Grower Community.

Submissions closed 4 Sept 2020.

The select committee is charged with returning a report to Parliament 30 Sept; with the next session beginning 23 Sept. As part of the Parliamentary sitting 23 Sept, a request was granted to defer the report to Dec 2020.


The Agriculture Bill 2020 repeals the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978, and amendments made on the formation of the Ministry of Marine Resources (1984).

The Agriculture Bill provides for the functions, powers, and administration of the Ministry of Agriculture under modern reformed governance arrangements and aims to ensure that the ministry can more effectively manage the agriculture sector and facilitate its sustainable development into the future.
-Explanatory Notes: Agriculture Bill 2020

A webpage with download of the Bill was added to the Agriculture website (19 July); and linked from the Parliament website – via the Facebook feed panel – 6 Aug 2020.

Maori: Ture Tamanako no te Pae Tanu 2020

English: Agriculture Bill 2020

First and second reading

The To Tatou Vai Authority Bill was read in the Cook Islands Parliament June 16 and June 17 2020; and referred to a select committee.


Select Committee Public Meetings

A select committee meetings to hear oral submissions was held in Aitutaki, July (2020) and in Atiu, Mitiaro and Ma‘uke the week of Aug 10-14.


  • Takitumu: Tuesday, Aug 25, 6-8pm, Titikaveka Sunday School
  • Puaikura: Wednesday, Aug 26, 6-8pm, Calvary Hall
  • Teau-o-Tonga: Thursday, Aug 27, 6-8pm, Sinai Hall

Agriculture Bill 2020 Submissions

For those not able to attend vaka meetings, written submissions on the Agriculture Bill 2020 can be made to:

Agriculture Bill 2020 Select Committee

The members appointed to consult on the Bill, by party, constituency and island are:

  • Patrick Arioka (Chair), CIP, Muri Enua, Rarotonga
  • Vaitoti Tupa (Vice Chair), Demo, Matavera, Rarotonga
  • Nooroa Baker, Demo, Akaoa, Rarotonga
  • Wesley Kareroa, Demo, Oneroa, Mangaia
  • Tingika Elikana, CIP, Pukapuka, Pukapuka
  • Tuakeu Tangatapoto, CIP, Mitiaro, Mitiaro
  • Tereapii Maki-Kavana, CIP, Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara, Aitutaki

CIP = Cook Islands Party (ruling party). Demo = Democratic Party.


Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978

The Agriculture Bill repeals the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978. The 1978 act constituted and set out the functions of the ministry. This included listing specific export crops.

4. Principal functIons of the Department - The principal functions of the Department shall be -

  1. To promote and encourage the development of all phases of the agricultural, pastoral, horticultural, marine resources and fishing industries; and
  2. To promote and encourage the growing of bananas, citrus, copra, pineapples and other fruit, market garden and other vegetables and stock and poultry; and
  3. To increase the production of and to promote and encourage the marketing and sale of those products.

-Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978

Contrast this against the proposed functions of the ministry (which seem more comprehensive, yet oddly less-specific):

8 Functions of ministry
The ministry has the following functions:

  1. encouraging sustainable agricultural production, including —
    1. the production of crops, livestock, and pollinators; and
    2. managing crop and livestock genetic resources; and
    3. protecting the welfare of livestock and other farmed animals:
  2. regulating agricultural health and improving the biosecurity status of the Cook Islands in accordance with the Biosecurity Act:
  3. regulating pesticides in accordance with the Pesticides Act; and
  4. supporting the relevant ministry with responsibility for food safety legislation, initiatives, and policy:
  5. undertaking agricultural research and development:
  6. formulating and implementing plans, policies, and strategies for the agricultural sector:
  7. formulating and implementing agricultural projects, programmes, and initiatives:
  8. supporting the marketing and use of agricultural inputs, including —
    1. pesticides; and
    2. crop seeds; and
    3. fertilisers; and
    4. in co-ordination with other relevant ministries, livestock medicines; and
  9. developing quality certification schemes and value chains for the agricultural sector:
  10. supporting stakeholders’ participation in agriculture:
  11. managing forestry, including forest plantations:
  12. providing advisory and extension services and capacity development for ministry personnel and stakeholders:
  13. facilitating access to finance and investment and partnerships in the agricultural sector:
  14. facilitating access to domestic and overseas markets for agricultural products:
  15. monitoring and assessing the agricultural sector, including through the collection, assessment, and reporting of agricultural data and statistics:
  16. supporting Island Governments with the formulation, implementation, monitoring, and assessment of agricultural policies and strategies (including by the use of memoranda of understanding).

-Agriculture Bill 2020

State of the sector

Agriculture was once the foundation of the Cook Islands economy. Since the 1980’s the sector has been in decline with virtually no growth recorded, and a decline in production, competitiveness and exports. The agriculture industry now only contributes 3.4% to GDP (MFEM 2014). Contributing factors to this situation include outmigration, reduction in available arable land, an ageing farmer population, farm work force constraints and climate related extreme weather events including longer drought periods and unusual seasonal trends. Agriculture is essentially a part-time or subsistence driven sector. The 2011 census reveals that the number of active commercial growers dropped from 153 to 31 between 2006 and 2011.
-Cook Islands National Agriculture Policy 2017-2021

The Rarotonga General Grower meeting, called in July 2020 to discuss the To Tatou Vai Authority (Water Charges) Bill, recognised that the community affected included small-scale and subsistence as well as home growers (crops grown for food, cultural, and medicinal purposes).

Sustainable agriculture

Although it is a key term used within the bill, ‘sustainable argiculture’ is not defined. Certain functions of the Ministry may even conflict with such a definition. For example, 8(h) has the ministry marketing agricultural inputs — this may go against sustainable practices depending on whether the input is man-made or nature-based.

Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing long-term crops and livestock while having minimal effects on the environment. This type of agriculture tries to find a good balance between the need for food production and the preservation of the ecological system within the environment. In addition to producing food, there are several overall goals associated with sustainable agriculture, including conserving water, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and promoting biodiversity in crops grown and the ecosystem. Sustainable agriculture also focuses on maintaining economic stability of farms and helping farmers improve their techniques and quality of life.
-What Is Sustainable Agriculture? — Definition, Benefits and Issues (DSST)

Broad as it is, even the above definition is open to debate. For example the practise of organic growing allows for the use of naturally-derived fertilisers and pesticides: such as compost teas, mulch, manures, plant-based insect repellant oils, etc. In an island-economy ‘sustainabile agriculture’ might also be about increasing local input production to reduce dependence on imported inputs.

Local knowledge

9 Guiding principles
The ministry must, to the extent reasonably practicable and appropriate in the context, have regard to the following principles when performing its functions:

(c) the desirability of carrying out statutory functions based on science and evidence-based decision making;

The Police Commissioner has requested the addition of ‘local knowledge’ to the principle guiding decision-making. This would acknowledge that agricultural practices must be adapted to the local cultural, environmental and economic context.

Interpretation required

There are a number of (global) industrial or (UN) development-specific terms used within the Bill that require interpretation (definition).

  • good governance
  • sustainable agriculture / sustainable agricultural practices
  • environmentally sustainable
  • risk-based approach (to decision-making)
  • Farmer (as stakeholder group)
  • agricultural value chain
  • proposed: local knowledge

Farmers (as a stakeholder group) have not been consulted as part of drafting the Bill.


Data collectors, inspectors, warrants, and investigations

An Act to repeal the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Act 1978 and provide for the responsible Ministry to have adequate powers to obtain information and prevent adverse effects on agriculture.

The bill allows for the appointment of Data collectors and Inspectors (both with broad powers). Appointment is not restricted to employees of the ministry.

16 (4) The head of the ministry may appoint any public servant or other person who is not an employee of the ministry to be a data collector, but that person is not to be treated as an employee of the ministry by reason of that appointment.

18 (4) A data collector may, for 1 or more of the purposes in section 17, enter into any place (other than a dwelling house) without consent and do 1 or more of the following:

  1. collect data:
  2. install a data collection device:
  3. retrieve a data collection device.

Although dwelling house is excluded from 18(4), data collectors and inspectors can make an application to the High Court for a warrant:

34 Warrant to enter dwelling house
(1) The High Court may issue a search warrant, in relation to a place (including a dwelling house), vehicle, or other thing on application by a data collector or an inspector if the court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds—

Police Commissioner Maara Tetava has highlighted that there is provision for two types of warrant: 33(3) a warrant to enter; and 34(1) a warrant to search.

Protections available to the public (under the Official Information Act 2008) either do not apply, or will require an order from the High Court (to re-assert such protections):

19 Protection from disclosure

  1. This section—
    1. overrides the Official Information Act 2008; but
    2. is subject to any contrary order of the High Court.


12 Establishment of committees
(1) The head of the ministry may establish committees for the purposes of this Act, the enactments listed in Schedule 1 (other than the Biosecurity Act), and any other relevant enactment.

The public will be advised of the establishment or dissolution of a committee — unless they aren’t…

15 Notice of establishment and dissolution

  1. Notice of the establishment or dissolution of a committee must be published by the ministry in the Cook Islands Government Gazette and a newspaper circulating at least once a week in the Cook Islands.
  2. Any notice of a decision to establish or dissolve a committee must specify the name of the committee, and the purpose of its establishment or dissolution, as the case may be.
  3. The establishment or dissolution of a committee is valid even if a notice is not published under subsection (1).

One Act to rule them all

Where provisions might be diluted by the context established by existing legislation, the ‘modern’ solution is to set the Agriculture Bill above all others.

19 Protection from disclosure

  1. The ministry may use the notes or copies of information or records made under this Act only for the purpose for which those notes or copies were made.
  2. The ministry may not disclose to any member of the public—
    1. the identity of any person who or entity that provides or produces information or records, except with the written consent of that person or entity; or
    2. the notes or copies of information or records made or taken.
  3. This section—
    1. overrides the Official Information Act 2008; but
    2. is subject to any contrary order of the High Court.

Growers with the financial means ($300/hr rate for legal counsel), and confidence to file with the High Court may be able to retain the protections afforded by the Official Information Act to all other citizens.

A similar approach has been taken to negotiating the issue of permits and licenses issued under other regulations:

26 Precautionary notices

(1) This section applies if an inspector reasonably considers that an activity, matter, or other thing has had, is having, or is likely to have an adverse effect on agriculture or the agricultural sector.

(6) A notice may be issued under this section despite any approval, licence, or permit having been granted for the activity, matter, or other thing.

Within the bill, ‘thing’ includes land.

5 Interpretation
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,—

adverse effect on agriculture or the agricultural sector, in relation to any thing (including land) or activity,—

Ciminal proceedings? If you’re a grower, you can be prosecuted without being served any formal court documents.

30 Prosecution of minor offences

(2) Despite anything to the contrary in any other Act, every prosecution of a minor offence may be commenced by an inspector or data collector against a person served with a minor offence notice by filing the notice in the High Court and without further service of any documents on the offender.


Offences, fines, and minor offences

Agri-businesses are not afforded the same protections as other companies when it comes to liability for offences.
(Noting that the bill does not provide interpretation of either officer or agent.)

28 (6) If a company commits an offence under this Act, any officer or agent of the company who authorised, assented to, or participated in, or by his or her neglect or omission contributed to, the commission of the offence—

  1. is a party to and may be found guilty of the offence; and
  2. is liable to the penalty provided for the offence.

Public servants (head, employees, data collectors, inspectors, committee members) are not liable.

37 Protection from liability

(2) A person referred to in subsection (1) is not civilly or criminally liable in respect of any loss or damage arising from an act or omission by that person in good faith (whether or not the act or omission was negligent) in the performance of a function or purported function, or exercise or purported exercise of any function or power, under this Act or any other enactment that the ministry, with the authority of the Prime Minister, for the time being administers.


Classification/subjects: Agriculture Bill 2020, agriculture, organics, sustainable agriculture, national development goals, legislation, Cook Islands, south pacific, United Nations.



Parliament of the Cook Islands

Acts administered by the Ministry of Agriculture

Related Acts



  • 14 June 2014: FAO identifies way to boost Cook Islands agriculture. Cook Islands News.
    Over the past 20 years, the agriculture sector in the Cook Islands has undergone a significant transformation. The value of imported food consumption per capita has more than doubled, and foreign exchange generated from food and beverage exports has plummeted to just over NZ$3 million.
  • 7 June 2016: FAO to discuss weedkiller options. Cook Islands News.
    “When organic farming is to be encouraged here in the Cook Islands, farmers also need to learn the different pestilent diseases out here and there is a need to for all farmers to work together to reduce the use of paraquat and to work together,” Hazelman said.
    “We need to be trained to recognise problem weeds and how to get rid of them through organic inputs. Some of these (organic weedkillers) are copper oxy-chloride-based and are now available in shops.”
  • 13 Sept 2016: ‘Paraquat is my friend,’ says hard-hitting local farmer. Cook Islands News.
    “I have been a farmer for all of my 55 years and have used paraquat to help clean my weeds. I have touched spray, sprayed without overalls and mask and once I even got covered in paraquat when I fell down. But hey! I’m still here.”
  • 8 Mar 2019: Adaptation programme reaches Aitutaki. Cook Islands News.
    The programme also looked at strengthening national and local capacity for monitoring and decision making to respond and to reduce risks associated with climate change and establishing climate resilient water management instruments using integrated and community based approach.
    It also looked at raising awareness and established a knowledge exchange platform to increase adaptive capacity to revitalise agriculture production systems.
  • 13 Jan 2020: Pressure for pesticides ban. Cook Islands News.
    The Pacific bans have given momentum to calls for Cook Islands to abandon chemical pesticides and herbicides, and become the first country in the world to go wholly organic.
  • 9 July 2020: Six dogs poisoned by Paraquat - vet. Cook Islands News.
    Animals suffer terribly when poisoned with Paraquat. Te Are Manu vet Dr Ellen McBryde knows this first hand — in the past week she has seen six dogs, all from one small area on the back road of Arorangi.
  • 14 July 2020: Bills tackled in Aitutaki consultations . Losirene Lacanivalu, Cook Islands News.
    Consultation in Aitutaki also includes presentations by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Associate Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Arioka and Agriculture secretary Temarama Anguna-Kamana presenting on the proposed Agriculture Bill 2020.
  • 29 July 2020: Growers want a rep in water authority board. Cook Islands News.
    The growers met a week ago to discuss the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill which is under public consultation. The meeting attended by almost 50 growers, both domestic and commercial, was called by Natura Kuki Airani — the Cook Islands Organics Growers Association.
    A Grower Committee was elected at the end of the meeting. The committee is charged with advocating for grower interests related to the To Tatou Vai Authority and Agriculture Bills.
  • 13 Aug 2020: MPs go to Pa Enua. Rashneel Kumar, Cook Islands News.
    Members of two Parliamentary select committees are touring southern group islands this week to discuss new immigration and agriculture draft laws.
    They are holding consultations on Atiu, Mitiaro and Ma‘uke to gauge people’s views on the bills, before submitting a report to Parliament for next month’s sitting.
    The Agriculture Bill is intended to provide for the development of sustainable agricultural practices, data collection, and to provide more regulation with inspectors empowered to enforce that regime.
  • 26 Aug 2020: Calls for tougher rules on use of toxic herbicide . Cook Islands News.
    A group of concerned citizens are lobbying Government to include a ban on the toxic herbicide Paraquat in proposed legislation that aims to overhaul the agricultural sector.
  • 31 Aug 2020: MPs go to Pa Enua. Cook Islands News.
    The new Agriculture Bill seems more focused on collecting fines and private information and seizing property, than on growing the country’s primary industries, says the Opposition.
  • 2 Sept 2020: Diana Tschan: Growers Committee ‘not politically affiliated’. Cook Islands News.
    I want to make it clear that our committee is not politically affiliated nor are we playing the party lines. More importantly, the impact on growers and farmers, as a result of the new Agriculture Bill may not be favourable.
    The Growers Committee are working hard to ensure this sector is recognised as an integral part of our society from commercial, through to our potential growers and farmers in schools.
  • 4 Sept 2020: Temarama Anguna-Kamana: Growing the agriculture industry together. Cook Islands News.
    Two areas of focus of the new Agriculture Bill includes the collection of data or information on agriculture (crop, livestock) production; and ensuring an effective pest monitoring programme to better protect our country from invasive species.
  • 17 Sept 2020: Bills top agenda in Parliament. Cook Islands News.
    Acting Clerk of Parliament Jeannine Daniel has confirmed Parliament will sit on Wednesday next week [23 Sept].…Parliament will receive reports from four select committees on the review of bills namely: Crimes Bill, Immigration Bill, Agriculture Bill and the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill.

Working Draft. Updated: 24 Sept 2020.


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