Friday, February 15, 2013

Coconut industry cries for support

Source: The National, Thursday, February 14, 2013 

NEWLY-appointed executive director of Asia Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) Uron Salum, from Karkar Island in Madang, says the coconut industry is a very important one that must be supported by all Papua New Guineans.
He said in these trying times, when copra prices were at an all-time low, PNG should be looking at producing more of other coconut products such as bio-fuel, timber and virgin coconut oil.
“I think everybody sitting in this room understands the importance of coconut in real terms, as known by every family in this country, but downplayed because of lack of proper policy to back up and be able to bring that to reality in terms of economic support to our country,” Salum told reporters.
“Coconut, over time, has been just known for its by-product, copra, which has been one of the major injustices to the coconut itself.
“Our much advanced neighbours in Asia are fairly advanced in (coconut) technology.
“There’s coconut water bottled by them and sold in Port Moresby for K10 for a one-litre bottle.
“Processed coconut is being sold to Papua New Guineans when we have it behind our houses.
“This crop, and this particular tree, is referred to in the Asia-Pacific as the ‘tree of life’ and we know that in reality.
“God’s given us a great gift that we have not exploited to the fullest.”
Salum said on his Karkar Island, which has the most coconut trees in PNG, bio-fuel was being used widely.
“It performs a lot better than the diesel fuel,” he said.
“You could sell your copra for a copra buyer for 30t per kg, but if you sold it to a bio-fuel distributor, you get K1.
“This is not determined by the world market price for copra or coconut … this is determined by the petroleum market.
“It’s the value-adding and downstream processing of coconut that will revolutionise just about every home in the country, a quantum leap.”
Salum said PNG should be looking at coconut timber and virgin coconut oil – areas in which Fiji has become a world leader.
“We (PNG) are so far behind,” he said.
“We have the highest number of senile coconuts in the Pacific.
“That’s a disadvantage on one part, but a very big advantage in one part in that we have coconut timber, which is one of the highest quality furniture materials.
“The virgin coconut oil that is going out now and being made in villages, has very, very high quality chemical compounds which have very good health benefits.
“Coconut is a very important industry that needs to be supported.
“The tree is far more important than a lot of people think it is.”
Trade, Commerce and Industry Minister Richard Maru says the coconut industry in PNG makes a smaller contribution than other major cash crops such as oil palm and coffee, however, is still a strong influence through direct employment, export earning, GDP contribution, and food production.
He said PNG produced 146,526 tonnes of copra in 2011 and only 70, 366 tonnes in 2012, due to low prices.
Maru said copra exports in 2011 were only 44% of average, and in 2012 only 32% of average.
He said through APCC, the PNG government could:
  • Seek increased replacement or new plants;
  • Develop an early warning system on potential coconut bio-security threats;
  • Innovate research;
  • Undertake a country-wide appraisal of coconut smallholder farms and plantations;
  • Address domestic market issues; 
  • Benefit from sharing of experience and deve­lopment of technology;
  • Actively promote and pursue opportunities with credible investors for domestic and export promotion of traditional coconut products such as dessicated coconut, coconut cream/milk, shell charcoal, activated carbon coir fibre, and virgin coconut oil;
  • Address quality requirements that are critical in established markets overseas by establishing PNG copra quality standards; and
  • Identify investment opportunities in the coconut value chain.

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