Business on hold while coconut trees recover

It is almost a year since Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu with devastating impacts and on the small island of Malo in the north, some important industries have not yet recovered.

The island’s coconut oil production is on hold with coconut trees still recovering and not yet producing enough fruit to make commercial quantities of oil.

The members of the Saufali Virgin Coconut Oil business in the island’s north, depend on a regular supply of dry coconuts, but with supply inadequate, oil production is impossible.

Vice Chair of the Saufali company, Tahe Leotamaute, says no coconuts and no oil production means no income for company members.

“We have to look elsewhere to get money,” he said.

All Saufali’s members are young people who depend on the company for income.

The company was formed around 2010 by ten youth clubs in North Malo, to help young people who leave school early to learn skills, find a job and earn an income.

The company had been thriving but, Cyclone Harold – a category five cyclone – has forced the group to put their dreams of producing more coconut products on hold.

Mr Leotamaute says, “Before the cyclone, sales were very good. We used to sell our virgin coconut oil to businesses in Luganville Town and Port Vila.”

He says the business had also started producing coconut soap and was about to launch the product when Cyclone Harold hit.

“Cyclone Harold has really impacted the business not only because of damage to coconut trees but also [damage] to the house we use for our oil production,” Mr Leotamaute said.

“When the cyclone came, it destroyed everything. We can no longer produce oil or soap, so we haven’t been able to launch our coconut soap product.”

Mr Leotamaute says the company’s oil and soap was hand-made with no machines used.

“We grate the coconuts and squeeze it with our hands. It is a very hard job and we need machines to support our production,” he said.

He says Saufali was seeking support to purchase a machine to produce soap when Cyclone Harold hit and disrupted the process.

He says the business will now seek assistance from the Department of Agriculture for that venture.

“We are looking forward to producing soaps when our coconut trees recover,” he said.

“Also, before the cyclone, we had received Government support to install a solar system but it has not been officially handed over to us yet and we’re still waiting.”

Saufali’s members have started replanting coconut trees with encouragement from the Department of Agriculture, and other cash crops devastated by Harold, such cocoa, are also being replanted.

The members are also working with a local sawmill, cutting timbers to rebuild the production house.

Mr Leotamaute says, so the members can earn a little while waiting to resume the production and sale of coconut oil, the company will start operating an ice-box to sell fresh meat, especially sea-food.

Saufali Virgin Coconut Oil has been selling virgin coconut oil at VT300 per 250 millilitre plastic.

Mr Leotamaute says the Sauvali model of supporting early school leavers to get into income generating activities should be tried by more communities and youth groups around Vanuatu.

He says if these types of companies or associations are formed they can get help from both government and non-government organisations.

Many farmers around Santo and Malo islands in Vanuatu’s north were hard-hit by Cyclone Harold and also cannot produce copra until their coconut trees recover.

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