DEAR EDITOR, in the Solomon Times newspaper, yesterday, February 12, 2018 a coconut crushing mill operator in Malaita Province, Billy Funusulia, revealed a troubling story in which a potentially income generating project is failing because of operating costs and marketing options
Quoting the newspaper article this is what was revealed: “Operating a coconut crushing mill is a great income generating opportunity for many rural Solomon Islanders.
“But keeping the operation going and maintaining the crushing mill machine can be challenging and costly.
“Billy Funusulia looks after his community crushing mill at Gwa’adingale village, Malu’u, in north Malaita.
“He said the challenges faced by rural communities operating coconut crushing mill are enormous.
“The most critical challenge is finance and keeping the operation going,” Mr Funusulia said.
“There were a lot of overhead costs that are beyond the income we are generating from this operation,” he added.
The community coconut crushing mill Mr Funusulia is managing was funded through Australia’s direct aid program more than a year ago.
Mr Funusulia said since their operation started last year, they’ve so far made three shipments.
“But we were unable to cover our costs,” he admitted.
“In fact our trend in revenue has gone from bad to worse.
“Thus, we were not able to regularly produce coconut oil as expected.”
Mr Funusulia said unlike copra producers, crushing mill operators are very selective in buying coconut fruits that are needed to extract the oil.
“So it is not that easy to get the quantity and the quality we want,” he explained.
“Furthermore, the local coconut oil market is being monopolised.
“So mill operators have no choice because the local buyer controls the selling price.”
“Mr Funusulia said he believed if there are more local buyers, mill operators will have choices to sell their oil to the highest offer.
“He also appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) to assist coconut mill operators to meet the challenges.
“We are struggling to keep our operations going,” he said.
“I know there is the National Coconut Rehabilitation Program through which assistance in the agriculture sector can be sought.
“The government should come in and help us through this program.”
“When contacted, Deputy Director of Planning within MAL, Simon Iro said the Ministry can help when requests are made through the formal process.
“In the case of those in north Malaita, submissions for assistance should be channelled through the relevant offices at Malu’u and Auki.
“He said the Malu’u based agriculture officer should receive the request and send it to their Auki office for approval, before it is communicated to Honiara.
“Mr Iro said once Honiara office receives the request then they will respond to it, as it comes under Malaita Province.
“He also revealed that coconut crushing mill operators around the country have to work along with Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands (KPSI), in order for them to control the costs incurred in their productions.
“If they employ more than five people in the crushing mill then they will experience losses,” Mr Iro concluded.”
The bottom line here, it seems to me, is Mr. Funusulia and others like him operating coconut crushing mill plants throughout the country needs to start making a profit and not subjected to bureaucratic rules akin to ‘passing the parcel’ or restricted practices tied to a monopoly in the coconut oil market when it comes to selling their product.