A unique initiative in Vanuatu, which has Australian Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia ) as a partner is helping local coconut plantations go organic.
The Vanuatu Sustainable Agri-Business Initiative (VASABI), which is leading the change, was launched by the organisation, African Pacific in conjunction with the Vanuatu Government, the Vanuatu Agriculture College, World Vision Vanuatu and Australian Organic.
As part of the initiative, four hundred hectares of coconuts farmed by 216 growers from Sanma Community Coconuts on Espiritu Santo Island are being converted to organic. The largest single owned coconut plantation, Plantation Russet du Vanuatu covering 1550 hectares is also converting to organic. By switching to organic farming, the project aims to increase grower returns by 20%.
Coconut processors Vanuatu Virgin Coconut Oil are certified organic while Coconut Oil Production Santo Ltd is working to achieve organic certification. Australian Organic’s subsidiary company Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is certifying the farmers and processors.
Australian Organic’s Greg Paynter explains that Vanuatu is seeking organic certification to give it access to a broader market. He adds that organic certification can be a vehicle to improve the social capital and livelihoods of people from the rural sector.
Virgin coconut oil, crude coconut oil and copra meal (dried coconut kernel) are some of the products planned to be exported to Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States. According to Andreas Lombardozzi from African Pacific, the markets for coconut oil, flour and water as food are growing while coconut oil is also becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in cosmetics.
CEO of Coconut Oil Production Santo, Bernie Glaser, says that organic certification could have a positive impact on the 60% of the rural population that produce coconuts. Farmers are already considering moving on to organic cultivation of coffee and cocoa, followed by livestock.
Vanuatu has a population of 234,000 with 85% involved in farming activities. The fertile soil supports organic farming and synthetic fertilisers are not required. However, organic certification will require farmers to keep more records of farm practices.