Airfreight shipment of watermelons a Christmas success story


By Kalafi Moala 


Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The Air New Zealand freight shipment of watermelons from Tonga arrived in Auckland last Thursday, inspected on Friday morning, and then transported to Christchurch. The watermelons were sold at the supermarkets on Monday, and quickly sold out.

What an incredible outcome of a strenuous effort, led by Nishi Trading Company, in the negotiations with the New Zealand importer, and the arrangement with Air New Zealand for the airfreight. In fact with everything else up to actual payment of the watermelons.

“The buyer was so happy with the quality that full payment was made the very next day in which case we were then able to make immediate payment to our growers before Christmas although funds had not reached our account,” Minoru Nishi said with much joy.

The arrangement and payment for airfreight was by the exporter, and all other costs. “It was something we had calculated and planned carefully, to make sure it is not only done properly but the returns would be worth the effort and costs for all concerned.”

Minoru Nishi acknowledged a very successful united effort here in Tonga and in New Zealand that included all the stakeholders. He said: “I would like to extend our sincere thank you to all stakeholders who helped make this dream a reality.”

“First and foremost, our special recognition of Mr. Nacanieli Waqa of MPI (NZ), Mr. Metui Falesiva, Acting CEO of MAFF and staff, ATS, TAL, MOT for the use of trucks, Tonga Police for the special escort, Ministry of Revenue and Customs, Air New Zealand, and Nishi Trading staff. Last but not the least, our farmers.”

Why this shipment was special is because it is the first commercial shipment of watermelons from Tonga by air to New Zealand. The produce obviously arrived much fresher than if they were sent by boat. This shipment also arrived at a time that there is still restrictions for watermelon shipments from Queensland; and the locally grown watermelons were still in the early stage of their harvesting season.

However, Minoru says that he was told by the importer that the locally grown watermelons were of no match to the quality of the Tongan watermelons.

Minoru Nishi explains what they faced as exporters before this shipment by air.

“Firstly, when we couldn’t ship our sea freight option of 3 x 20′ reefer containers of watermelons after the temporary re-opening of the pathway by MPI, we sought the opportunity for an airfreight option in order to finish the season on a high for the sake of the industry and our farmers.”

“In order to achieve this, we had to have very clear terms of trade and all costs factored in before we did anything. This was important to ensure the trade would be viable for everyone else.”

He says, “We worked day and night along with the support of the staff of MPI and their audit team and the Ministry of Agriculture along with Customs, Tonga Police, ATS, Air NZ, TAL and our staff to make sure all logistical requirements and the fumigation process, etc. line up perfectly and on time.”

“The importer was given a deadline,” Minoru said, “to consider our offer, in which case it was accepted and that was when things were put into motion. It was quite a stressful few days of planning because we also still had risk of potential fruit fly given that the cargo had to be transported from the wharf to the airport through open air.”

“Luckily for us, the consignment was well wrapped and protected from any external contamination and we managed to pass the MPI inspection in Auckland upon arrival.”

Asked what they as exporters have learned, Minoru said: “This has been a very steep learning curve for all of us but one we can improve on and look to grow this mode of transport not only for watermelons but other fresh produce lines into the New Zealand and other nearby markets in the future.”

Nishi Trading and their growers is celebrating Christmas with joy and thankfulness this year. From a shipment of 82 metric tonnes of watermelons last year, to 357.6 metric tonnes in 2020, and a projection for 900-1000 metric tonnes in 2021, the dream has begun. But it’s not just the large volumes of shipment to New Zealand they envision, but also a new mode of shipment by air, which will give the market in New Zealand fresher produce from Tonga to enjoy.


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