Push to boost quality of copra production

The Vanuatu Government is encouraging farmers to lift the quality and quantity of their copra production, starting in the leading copra producing islands in Vanuatu’s north.

In the face of a decline in copra and coconut production in Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Bureau of Standards and the Department of Agriculture is running an information campaign, starting in Malekula.

It aims to teach and encourage farmers to produce premium copra; replant coconut trees; and identify other non-copra uses for coconut and priority areas for new copra production facilities.

The Manager for the Vanuatu Bureau of Standards in Santo, Benoit Chalet, says a 2007 coconut study in Vanuatu revealed that of the nine million coconut trees grown – 58 per cent were not used.

The study showed that only 42 per cent of coconut trees were used for making copra and oil, with the remaining trees never harvested, with nuts left to germinate in the plantations.

“The question was why was the 58 per cent not used?,” Mr Chalet said.

“So, we decided to visit farmers and find out why coconut production continues to decline and why farmers are changing their focus to other cash crops for money?”

Mr Chalet says coconut farmers gave many reasons for no longer producing copra.

“The unstable copra price is one of the main reasons why farmers stop producing copra. We hear that in almost every village we go to,” he said.

“Secondly, the hard and heavy task of producing copra is a challenge.

“The third reason is a lack of access to copra production facilities.

Farmers have no access to proper copra production facilities and find it hard to get hot air pipes.”

With the Department of Agriculture’s target to replant one million trees by 2026, the information campaign is also encouraging coconut farmers to replant coconut trees.

Coconut specialist, Italio Bororoa, says the information campaign is starting to give farmers the confidence to replant coconuts and many farmers in Malekula have responded positively.

He says by June, farmers in Malekula will start receiving nut seedlings to plant.

August Wartif, a representative of exporters, including Vanuatu’s only premium copra buyer – Pacific Pride Ltd, says premium copra could be the answer to farmers’ frustration over the copra price.

He says the Santo-based Pacific Pride Ltd, is buying premium copra at VT75,000 per tonne.

“So, we are encouraging farmers to move to premium copra production so they can see an improvement in the price they get for their produce,” he said.

Andrew Kevu, an expert on premium copra production and a coconut farmer himself, says to produce premium copra farmers must follow a standard production method.

Mr Kevu says that this standard production method has been explained to farmers in all the villages the information campaign team has visited.

He says with climate change a major issue, the team is also designing heaters and solar driers to help farmers produce quality copra.

The Vanuatu Bureau of Standards says the information campaign team will move from Malekula to Penama and Torba provinces and then on to Sanma Province in around October.

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