Developing and rehabilitating the ailing coconut industry in the country remains a priority of the Fijian Government.

This was reiterated by the Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development, Waterways and Environment Hon. Dr. Mahendra Reddy while officiating at the Coconut Day Celebrations at Wairiki Grounds in Taveuni yesterday in acknowledgement of the ‘Tree of Life’.

With the theme “Nutrition, Health and Wealth” the event was held to provide an opportunity to celebrate and promote, create interest in, and strengthen Fiji’s ailing coconut industry.

“The Ministry of Agriculture acknowledges the importance of the coconut industry. Through its Crop Extension Services and Research Division, the Ministry promotes the overall development of coconut as part of a farming system, whilst focussing on the rehabilitation of existing fields and plantations,” said Minister Reddy.

“Literally, apart from generating income and alleviating poverty, coconuts help to sustain household food needs and nutrition security. Around 120,000 of our rural population depend on the coconut industry as their main source of food and livelihood,” he added.

Hon. Reddy further acknowledged the foundations on which the celebration of the National Coconut Day was celebrated as worth noting because it derived from the critical aspect that was intrinsically linked to taking the Coconut Industry forward.

“At the forefront of these concerted efforts, there is an immediate need to address shortfalls that exist within the coconut industry, for example; the trees around us are tall but are also widely unproductive. There is a need to replant so that our future generation can enjoy these fruits.

This low production has been attributed but is not exclusive to existing senile plantations (40% of trees are senile and unproductive), fluctuation in copra prices, high production costs, shortage of copra cutters, lack of interest amongst the younger generation, frequent cyclones and other catastrophic weather events, and competition from other lucrative cash crops such as dalo and yaqona.

“On the other hand, however, the production of Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is rapidly gaining popularity amongst our rural and maritime communities. Copra remains the most traded coconut commodity in the country as Fiji has around 10 million coconut trees scattered around an area of approximately 65,000ha of land; the majority (70%) of which, are in the Northern Division. This is the silver lining but still requires immediate addressing if efforts are to succeed,” said Minister Reddy.

“The Ministry has conducted training over the last 5 years and trained more than 100 participants on whole nut processing. Additionally, these participants were equipped with VCO producing machines, which are valued at $700,000 (100 sets of equipment @ $7000 each) to boost VCO production in their villages and communities,” he added.

During this financial year, the Ministry of Agriculture was allocated a budget of $750,000 for the Coconut Development Program, an increase of 103% as compared to the 2014 budget; when the Fijian Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture allocated FJD$370,000 to the Coconut Development Programme.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture provides support through its Research Division, with an allocation of $200,000 to the Taveuni Coconut Centre under the 2018/19 budget.