Vanuatu coconuts go organic

Monday, 25 February, 2013

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

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

The changes are part of the Vanuatu Sustainable Agri-Business Initiative (VASABI), which was launched by African Pacific in conjunction with the Vanuatu Government, the Vanuatu Agriculture College, World Vision Vanuatu and Australian Organic. By converting plantations to organic, the project aims to increase grower returns by 20%.

Coconut processor 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 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.

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

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.

He added, “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.

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

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 said, “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. They are also looking at converting coffee and cocoa plantations to organic, followed by livestock.

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