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Plans in motion for Copra to topple sugar

FIJI DAILY POST 29-May-2009 11:54 AM

STAKEHOLDERS in the copra industry have set in motion plans to make their industry topple Fiji’s major agriculture export, sugar. And part of that plan is introducing a barter system that sees copra farmers and suppliers exchange their copra for groceries and goods provided by a major player in the wholesale industry. Coconut Industry Development Authority (CIDA) Consultant Aliki Turagakula said with proper planning the industry would exceed the struggling sugar industry. He added with Government providing the proper mode of transportation to the major suppliers the industry would undergo a major resurrection.

Turagakula visited the major suppliers in the Lau Group and said his initial assessment of the islands copra operations needed to be restructured. He said the current price of copra needed to be re-examined.

“I went to Lakeba and to Cicia and to Vanuabalavu and tried to figure out what would be the best price for copra per tonne from the producers side so I asked them during the meetings I had with them that what would be their calculations, sort of a preferable copra price and they came up with figures ranging from $700 to $900 a tonne and they say that the biggest issue that’s facing them now is the price which they say is very low at $500 a tonne,” Turagakula said.

“The pricing formula is regulated by government and CIDA is the regulator on behalf of government.

“We set the price of minimum $500 per tonne and that is calculated against the international coconut oil price and Fiji is a price taker so we cannot decide. We don’t want this fluctuation of prices as its affecting the volume of copra and we need a lot of copra to send to our mills so they can produce more oil,” he added.

Turagakula says the suppliers needed to improve on the standard of copra and coconut oil they supply.

“The processing of copra to produce coconut oil and virgin oil needs to be improved.

Though we have three successful mills in Lau that have been operating and supplying the oil mills in Suva its operations are done in a disorganised manner,” he said.

“We are also encouraging the set up of smaller mills we would like to see the set up of three mills in each big islands of Lakeba, Cicia and Vanuabalavu.

At the moment the quality of the copra is very poor even when compared with a standard grading system the copra quality is very low, very poor. This is contributed to by maybe their lack of knowledge and understanding of the process involved in producing quality oil,” he added.

Meanwhile, copra farmers and suppliers can trade their copra for groceries from Punjas Limited. Punjas Copra Clerk Ilisapeci Kalidole said the barter system was to help the farmers and suppliers boost their productivity.

"The goods mainly involve the basic needs like rice, flour, sugar, and canned foods,” Mrs Kalidole said.

“This system will be very useful to those with small businesses like canteens and supermarkets and even individuals, as long as they supply us with their copra we will trade them for our products,” she added.

She said she has informed most of the copra suppliers in Lau of their new barter system.

“Lau is the most popular supplier of copra and the standard of copra they supply is good. I have managed to speak to most of the suppliers and inform them of our barter system, most of them didn’t know that my company could do this.

“Lau is the biggest supplier of copra and the potential to do business here is very high, personally, I underestimated the demand here in Lau and I’ve noticed there is money, a lot of money out here,” she added.

By IMANUELI TUMOI

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