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Tongan farmers hit hard by Cyclone Gita

A week ago, Tongans were bracing themselves for what was to be the most destructive cyclone in the island's history.

But amid concerns around health and housing, officials now fear for the country's agricultural sector, which took a massive hit during the storm.

David Soaki has farmed his land since the 1980s, growing watermelon, squash and peanuts. He lost 80 percent of his crops - and thousands of dollars - when Cyclone Gita passed through. 

He told Newshub the loss was “very, very bad”.

“I think it will take six months to recover because we will have to replant, and it'll take another three months for harvesting.”

Soaki has hired children from the evacuation centre his family are living in. They've been tasked with collecting the watermelons that haven't gone rotten, and taking them to the market in the hopes of making some money.

Some 80 percent of Tongan households are involved in agriculture, and it remains a key driver of the economy. When Cyclone Gita passed through earlier this week, it wiped out crop farms right across the country.

Farmers will take a long time to bounce back - a concern also shared by the national emergency management office.

“We're hoping that we can buy some of this food for these people which will give them some money to continue on with rebuilding their farms,” Graham Kenna told Newshub. 

Soaki is hoping for a change of fortune.

“[I'm] very worried because I have watermelon I'm supposed to be harvesting, but now it's rotten because of a lot of rain, and I will see what I can do just to cover the costs.”

Almost a week on from the cyclone, power is starting to be restored to parts of Nuku'alofa and the town water supply is running once again.

But while progress is being made on the streets of the capital, it's going to be a long time before the people of Tonga get their lives back to normal.

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