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Integrated Approach In The Processing Of Coconut Products/ By - Products And Market Prospects In Fiji

Fiji’s ability to develop a practicable integrated coconut industry strategy will give it competitive advantage over countries lacking such a strategy.  Elements of a potential strategy include production of fuel additive applications, virgin coconut oil (VCO) for high-value products, coir-based products, etc, under the general heading of product diversification.

For years, the phrase ‘coconut industry’ has been synonymous with ‘copra industry’ in Fiji. This is largely because copra was, and still is, the main commodity traded for the purpose of making CNO. Attempts were made in the past to diversify the industry e.g. by producing desiccated coconut, coconut cream and activated carbon. With the exception of coconut cream, the other processes were discontinued for various reasons including inconsistent supply of raw material, economy of scale, etc.  

The coconut industry in Fiji is living on borrowed time unless some innovations are introduced that will get more value from the coconut instead of just processing it into copra. It is realized that if the government–owned oil mill, Copra Millers of Fiji Limited, were to stop operations right now for whatever reason, then the whole coconut industry in Fiji will collapse. 

Fiji’s coconut industry has been declining over the past 50 years. Yet, it remains an important food and income security source for the 100,000 people partly or fully dependent on it. Government’s concern resulted in a number of initiatives aimed at improving the welfare of the industry stakeholders. These initiatives included a study in 1996 to formulate an appropriate workable model for the creation of a single body to be responsible for the orderly and successful development of the industry.   

The study resulted in the creation of the Coconut Industry Development Authority (CIDA) in 1998. CIDA’s vision is to lead the coconut industry to a position of dominance in Fiji’s economy and its mission is to revitalize the coconut industry and provide sound research and extension services. Constraints to the attainment of CIDA’s vision and mission include:

 lack of long term policy on replanting based on mixed farming system
 lack of structure conducive to product diversification
 lack Constraints to the attainment of CIDA’s vision and mission include:
 lack of long term policy on replanting based on mixed farming system
 lack of structure conducive to product diversification
 lack of support services and systems necessary for production, processing and marketing
 lack of coordination/integration at all levels of the industry
 lack of continuity in research work on coconuts.

These constraints dictate that CIDA’s strategy must address simultaneously, the entire range of the industry’s profile, from resource management through to processing & marketing. Fiji is aware though that management systems & processing technologies have been developed in the large coconut economies and can be adapted and adopted relatively quickly given adequate resources.

In general CIDA’s strategy include educating stakeholders on global coconut industry development; establish pilot projects to ascertain viability and appropriateness; and generally showing farmers that new areas of focus, will provide better returns. The strategies include: 

 forming manageable units of farmers and processors 
 clearing of senile palms
 planting/replanting of high yielding trees
 crop diversification
 product diversification
 developing local demand 

With regard to the resource base, CIDA estimates that there are 60,000ha of   coconut plantations in Fiji, 90% of which is Fiji Tall. It is also estimated that some 4 million trees (two-thirds of the entire resource) will go out of production within the next 15 years.  

Accurate information on the extent of the coconut resource in Fiji is non-existent. Figures being used now are estimates determined from past agricultural census. CIDA sees the need for more accurate information. There is general consensus that there is insufficient coconut resource available to support increased production or for product diversification. To address the problem, large scale planting is being started aimed at the planting/replanting of:

 6 million trees mainly Fiji Talls
 half a-million Malayan Dwarfs, and
 rehabilitating 2 million standing trees.

This planting/replanting & rehabilitation programme is to be undertaken by 20,000 registered farmers over a 10-year period as from 2006.

CIDA recognizes that the critical success factor for the implementation of the programme is its immediate and continued adoption by the growers. Towards this end, a sustained promotional campaign is in place. Such a campaign is aimed also at:

 educating growers on the programme and the benefits to them, future generations, and to the country as a whole, and
 inspiring the growers to take ownership of the programme and the  responsibilities it entail. 

CIDA realizes however, that the most effective result will be attained when  farmers obtain an acceptable return to them from the sale of their nuts or the products from their nuts. 

Crude CNO is by far the major coconut product produced and exported from Fiji. Annual export earning from this source has been relatively low, contributing less than 1% to Fiji’s total foreign exchange earnings annually. Over the past decade, the world market price for crude CNO has been fluctuating between US$323 and $878/tonne. Over the same decade, no trend (upward, downward or stable) is apparent i.e. price movement has been quite haphazard.   

With regard to research on coconuts, very low priority had been given in previous years and this trend is continuing. Crop and product diversification have been receiving little attention.However, Fiji has been quite fortunate in having private entrepreneurs undertaking their own research using their own resources. As such, apart from CNO production, products such as VCO, coconut cream, etc, are being produced and marketed but on a very small scale.  

With regard to the industry, there are two CNO mill in Fiji. These mills are capable of processing all copra produced into CNO. Both mills have been operating well below capacity over the years. The coconut industry in Fiji is basically a copra industry.

A recent study has made the comment that there are five different types of CNO processing currently practiced in Fiji. Most of these processes do not result in the production of VCO either because of non- conformance to the APCC standard for VCO, or because the processing equipment do not satisfy sanitary requirement for VCO, or both. 

Developing and expanding rural enterprise is very important to the Government of Fiji because of the high level of rural unemployment; the increasing emphasis on empowering rural women; and the need to expand/decentralize services and enterprise to rural areas. 

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