The Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Viam Pillay (right) with Governnent officials celebrating World Coconut Day in Savusavu on March 22, 2018. Photo: Ministry of Agriculture
It’s all about coconut and making it a viable commodity.
Yesterday was the World Coconut Day celebrations and it was celebrated in Savusavu with the theme Coconut the Tree of Life, Sustains Family Wellbeing.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Viam Pillay said Government in all its effort is working towards addressing these various critical issues along the value chain to make coconut and its coconut products a lucrative business that can sustain family wellbeing.
Mr Pillay said: “Government through the Ministry of Agriculture is confident that the future of the coconut and the coconut industry is bright but first we must plant more trees.
“We will continue our support to all our coconut farmers and stakeholders including those in the supply chain, that all should greatly benefit from the crop in terms of livelihood, income and food security to ‘Sustain Family Wellbeing.
“Total estimated whole nut production is 41 million nuts per year, of which about 35 per cent is used for household consumption; 35 per cent for copra and around 30 per cent projected un-harvested and germinate under bearing trees in the plantations.
“Due to its resilience and sustainability to supports an estimated 100,000 farmers around Fiji, Government has recognised and included coconut in its strategic development priority in the coming years as in the MoA SDP 2018-2022 and Crop and Livestock Strategy for Fiji.”
Mr Pillay highlighted the performance of coconut and the coconut industry has been declining since 1970s.
“This was caused by years of neglect due to changing Government policies, coupled with the impact of natural disasters, pests and diseases, increased coconut timber harvesting from senile palms, the shift to more lucrative shorter term crops like Yaqona and Dalo, high transportation costs, low yields and unfavourable market prices for coconut oil and copra.
“This is compounded by the lack of labour and high labour costs which has caused many farmers to lose interest and abandon coconut.
“Due to its importance, the current Government has developed initiatives and implemented policies to promote and maximise its potentials and benefits.
“This includes the – Merging of coconut agency (CIDA and MoA) to allow for a better co-ordinated effort that entails the overall coconut based crop diversification programme.
“In 2010 a Coconut Industry Taskforce was formed to produce a Coconut Industry Reform Framework with the purpose of advancing the development of the coconut industry.
“For targeted rehabilitation and replanting programmes research facilities and laboratories were refurbished and renovated.
“New nurseries were also set up around Fiji especially after TC Winston to provide seedlings to local communities.”
The replanting programme was also extended to the Western Division where the ‘One Million Coconut Tree Planting Programme’ was launched at Yadua in Sigatoka, Nadroga in 2013. In terms of seedlings, TC Winston severely affected the main coconut growing areas in Vanua Levu, Northern Lau, Lomaiviti, Tailevu North and Ra areas.
“Given that most nuts fell after TC Winston, the Ministry managed to get seed nuts from Rotuma for our rehabilitation.
“We are still searching for seed nuts because we are also competing with other users’ in terms of products like virgin coconut oil, coconut water, copra, other bi-products or for local consumption.
“To date, over 40,000 seed nuts has been raised to seedling stage and supplied free including the TC Winston affected areas.
“This programme will continue over the next three to four years not only to replace the fallen trees but also to replace the senile trees which is more than 35 per cent of the current stands.
“The Ministry will continues working on selecting and marking good mother palms for seeds; establish and manage nursery; raise and distribute seedlings to farmers and continue our research work on suitable varieties and pest and disease.
“This is to redress issues faced by the coconut industry on senile palms, low planting and replanting rate, unavailability of seedlings, farmers training, and the provision of technical support. This is all in our effort to address food security, creating employment and generating income for the rural people.”
Increased copra price
Government in 2016/2017 has increased the minimum copra price from $780 to $1,000 per ton, to guarantee coconut farmers good return and to also regenerate farmer’s interest back to coconut.
However, apart from the usual, government has also identified a potential growth area within the coconut sector that when develop properly can provide both profitability as well as sustainability of the livelihood of the rural communities. It is ‘Value Addition and Downstream Processing’.
“Government believes that apart from copra, value addition and downstream processing provides a viable and lucrative investment opportunities for many rural coconut communities.
“Major advances in value adding like virgin coconut oil, soap, gel, handicraft and coconut water has made coconut a valuable commodity.
“It is a lucrative markets that can generate greater benefits apart from copra and coconut oil. Some very good examples of these businesses are Pacific Green and Pure Fiji. Copra Millers opened its VCO facility here in Savusavu last year, while other entrepreneurs like the Lomaiviti Women’s Group and a Women’s Group in Cicia, Lau, are taking advantage of the high demand of VCO and are exporting their products overseas.
“To further develop this value addition segment, the Ministry will continues to facilitate training which involves the development of skills in small scale value addition of coconut products and by-products.
“The provision of assistance in this areas is very critical especially on small machines and equipment for processing.
“Equally important is the enabling environment where private sectors can take the lead role in this development while at the same time encouraging partnership with government and local coconut communities.”