Coconut Sector Development Project to Bring New Opportunities to I-Kiribati

Apr 15, 2018

Tongafiti Cross, AMAK (left) and Anglin Onario, Kiribati Organic Producers (right) teach persons throughout Kiribati how to make by-products of the coconut (Photo: UNDP/Ruci Yauvoli)

Tarawa, Kiribati: Not opting for a slower pace of life during their retirement years, Tonagafiti Cross, 71, and Anglin Onario, 65, have been working tirelessly throughout Kiribati to educate their fellow citizens on the value of the coconut and how its by-products can be used to reduce poverty on the atoll islands. With a population of approximately 110, 000, Kiribati is one of the world’s most isolated countries and faces developmental challenges that have been complicated  by climate change and a lack of employment opportunities. 

Tongafiti is a member of Aia Maea Ainen Kiribati (AMAK), a women’s movement that falls under the leadership of the National Council of Women in Kiribati. She works with and encourages young women from school-leavers to single mothers to take charge of their financial success by using a resource that is readily available to them. “I say to the women, ‘Do you have a coconut at your house? Do you have a fallen coconut leaf? Well you can start to make money from that! I will teach you how. Always think of what you have in your own homes. Start from there.’”

This sentiment reflects the Government of Kiribati’s mandate in the Kiribati Development Plan (KDP) 2016 – 2019. One of its core deliverables is to drive national development by expanding private sector opportunities to aid in achieving inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Thus, the Ministry of Commerce, Industries and Cooperation (MCIC), Kiribati has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to implement the Coconut Sector Development Project with funding by the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA).

This initiative seeks to improve livelihoods and overall income as well as employment opportunities in Kiribati through approaches that will increase the production of value-added coconut commodities, like virgin coconut oil (VCO), coconut milk, flour, sugar and handicrafts. The Project will rely on educators like Tongafiti and Anglin as they have already established a wide network of persons on Kiribati’s mainland and approximately 14 of its outer islands. This network include persons who they have trained and are working as farmers, producers and suppliers of coconuts and their by-products.

“Coconuts are key to the diets of Pacific people as a source of healthy and nutritious food. They also play an important role in sustaining livelihoods of Pacific communities. The Coconut Sector Development Project will harness the economic potential of coconut trees by giving I-Kiribati the skills to responsibly harvest coconuts and produce virgin coconut oil, sugar, food, skin care products and biodiesel,” said Bakhodir Burkhanov, Country Director and Head of Pacific Regional Programme and Policy for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji.

The Coconut Sector Development Project will target business persons like Anglin, who is an entrepreneur and member of the Kiribati Organic Producers (KOP) and has trained suppliers in approximately 14 of the outer islands including Kiritimati (Christmas Island), Teraina and Abaiang, in virgin coconut oil and sugar production techniques. “We want to teach them the value of virgin oil and the toddy, the health benefits and how to use it. They can sell it themselves if they have a surplus or if they have a lot, then they can send it over to us,” she said.   She describes her training sessions as family and community activities where the men in the village cut the toddy and grate the coconuts while the women take these materials to produce the oil and sugar.

Anglin has been helping communities produce these organic products from coconut trees after learning the skills from a Filipino national who visited Kiribati in 2011. She is now dedicated to using her knowledge to build the capacity of those living in the outer islands.  She estimates that one supplier can provide over two hundred litres of virgin coconut oil each quarter. Her business duties include re-packaging and branding the products, thus adding value and enabling it to be sold at a higher price. Two-thirds of the final selling price goes to the supplier while one-third goes to her company for adding value to the by-products. ‘I reserve a small storage space. There we process the products (coconut oil, sugar) further by filtering, bottling and labelling to create the finished product, adding value to the products we get from the outer islands,” she said.

Both women acknowledge the current challenges in the coconut industry. A primary concern is the current trend by many farmers to sell only the copra (kernel) for export without exploring the other production options for the coconut. As such, the production level of virgin coconut oil is falling. They are hopeful that the Coconut Sector Development Project will motivate communities to become self-sufficient, as they will be provided with the training and resources to start and maintain their entrepreneurship journey, while boosting the export capacity of Kiribati’s coconut industry. The coconut export value currently stands at US $4,516,000, reflecting a 46.3 percentage contribution to Kiribati’s National Export earnings, as reported by the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC). “The knowledge is there. The equipment is not. Our training was Stage 1. Stage 2 is probably establishing a centre for production with full-time staff,” Anglin suggests.  

The Coconut Sector Development Project will run from March 2018 to December 2019. It is implemented in partnership with the Government of Kiribati and will engage rural farmers, producers, producer associations, women groups, youths, people living with disabilities and men engaged along the coconut value chain. The Project will contribute to the country’s effort toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 of Decent Work and Economic Growth.

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