BY LORETTA BRIGIDIA MANELE
COCONUT Day was recently celebrated at the Museum’s auditorium earlier this week, supported by a range of stalls showcasing various coconut products followed by an open forum.
Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock’s Permanent Secretary, Mr Jimi Saelea took the opportunity to enlighten the audience of how the coconut industry first made it’s mark in the country.
He said that coconut was the first plantation crop to devour Solomon Islands soil in the early 1990s by companies like Levers Pacific Plantations Ltd, Burns Philip and Company, Carpenter and Company and Fairymead Sugar Company.
Mr Saelea added that during those Protectorate days, copra was the primary product and main export commodity.
Moreover, he said that in the 1980s the transfer of coconut plantations from foreign ownership to local ownership took place but the business transfer deemed unsuccessful as it experienced a downfall due the latter’s failure to continue productivity maintenance.
In this case, Mr Saelea explained that the land purchase cooperative (LPCs) of the former plantations were not sustainable hence former coconut plantations in Isabel, Western Province, Guadalcanal, Makira/Ulawa and Central Province where in most cases coconuts are neither collected or processed remain unmanaged.
Adding fuel to the fire, is the RIPEL-Yandina saga, he said that this issue contributed immensely to the country’s decline in copra production.
In relation, Mr Saelea stressed that this was triggered by the absence of effort to bring back the plantations to optimum productivity.
However, all is not lost as he assured the audience of the government’s commitment in addressing the issue thus stated that the DCC government is doing its best to see the important asset rejuvenated back to its full productive capacity.
Flashing back to the copra historic outline, Mr Saelea mentioned that the pioneer crop took a turn in the 1990s, being processed into coconut oil by efforts to add value to copra citing that only large companies were producing the commodity at the time while small famers still tended to producing copra.
Furthermore, the country’s present day’s coconut industry just might be making history again as the Agriculture permanent secretary expressed that although copra is still being produced and exported, the option of replacing copra with high priced value added products with low volume is on the table.
Speaking of value added products, Mr Saelea stated that virgin coconut oil and other coconut products would eventually replace copra.
“The potential for the coconut industry to expand into downstream processing and value adding to capture niche markets is enormous.
“We should not be doing business as usual but concentrate on replanting of the senile plantations and address quality aspects in order to access premium prices for our coconut products.
“The challenges the coconut and oil palm industries faced by the CRB should not deter advancements and private sector investments in the coconut value chain.
“While addressing the CRB let us not lose sight of the fact that jobs are at stake as well as food security and livelihoods,” he said.