Thursday April 24, 2014 - 10:49 am | Login

Vanuatu coconuts go organic

Vanuatu is converting its largest coconut plantations to organic starting in February.

Four hundred hectares of coconuts, farmed by 216 growers from Sanma Community Coconuts, on Espiritu Santo Island are converting to organic.

In addition the largest single owned coconut plantation, Plantation Russet du Vanuatu, covering 1550 hectares is also converting to organic.

The changes are part of the Vanuatu Sustainable Agri-Business Initiative (VASABI).

VASABI was launched by an organisation called African Pacific in conjunction with the Vanuatu Government, the Vanuatu Agriculture College, World Vision Vanuatu and Australian Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia, BFA).

By converting plantations to organic the project aims to increase grower returns by 20 per cent.

Coconut processors Vanuatu Virgin Coconut Oil is certified and Coconut Oil Production Santo Ltd is working to achieve organic certification.

Australian Organic’s subsidiary company Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is certifying farmers and processors.

Australian Organic’s Greg Paynter says Vanuatu is seeking broad organic certification to give it access to as many markets as possible.

He says, “It’s great that organic certification can be a vehicle to improve the social capital and livelihoods of people from the rural sector.”

The population of Vanuatu is 234,000, spread over 83 islands, 85 per cent of the population are farmers.

Producers will sell virgin coconut oil, crude coconut oil and copra meal (dried coconut kernel) to Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States.

Andreas Lombardozzi from African Pacific says the markets for coconut oil, flour and water as food are growing.

Coconut oil is also becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in cosmetics.

Andreas says, “African Pacific’s focus is on tracking improvements in growers’ livelihoods and organic certification can definitely do this.”

One of the foundation principles of organics is improving social capital.

African Pacific estimates the farmers will contribute to producing up to 400 tonnes of organic virgin coconut oil and 1000 tonnes of organic crude oil each year.

CEO of Coconut Oil Production Santo, Bernie Glaser, says, “Organic certification could have a positive impact on the 60 per cent of the rural population that produce coconuts.”

Farmers are already looking at converting coffee and cocoa plantations to organic, followed by livestock.

In Vanuatu coconuts are generally already grown organically with no synthetic fertilisers because the soil is very fertile; however organic certification will require farmers to keep more records of farm practices.

This is the first organic project World Vision Vanuatu has funded (through New Zealand Aid project support).

World Vision Project Coordinator Mackenzie Vagaha says, “Organic represents a new and exciting market opportunity for Vanuatu and its farmers.

“Opening markets and gaining market information for farmers is key to gaining recognition and realising their potential. Our journey has just begun.”
Farmers expect to achieve full organic certification in 2015.