As we set off from a calm bay on the west coast of Choiseul at 6am on that Sunday morning, we had completed our visits to rebuilt DME® sites impacted by the April 2007 tsunami. Our helmsman told us “The boat ride to Gizo will take one and a half hours in good weather. If the weather is not so good it will usually take an hour longer.” He failed to say how long it would take if we actually had bad weather.
It was 7am and one hour into our voyage before a weak sun peeped out from behind cloud-covered Choiseul. The sea was choppy around a longer swell with an easterly wind increasing in strength. The progress of our 22ft boat was slow and we were quickly soaked. With four other passengers I was facing the stern and being pounded by spray. At least the spray was warm. My life jacket was a godsend. It was a real rollercoaster, white-knuckle, ride with bone jarring crashes over the waves. Surely the gravest danger here is spinal injury or neck whiplash. I forgot the itchy sand-fly bites on my legs and had a bruised butt. Frigate birds wheeled across the waves.
We originally intended to make our first landing on Kolumbungara (a large conical high island with an impressive extinct volcano) but this became impossible because of the direction of the swell and the strong wind. The sea was “smiling” the Solomon euphemism for showing its teeth! We were forced to make for Vella Lavella.
As we got close to the coast we headed into wind towards the eastern end of the island where, my guide shouts to me, “We have ‘cousins’”. We make landfall in a beautiful little bay at 9AM in bright sunshine but with a 25+ knot easterly wind blowing. We are indeed soaked. On a scale of 1 to 10 in difficulty, our helmsman ranks this 3 hour jaunt as 6 and we are only half way! We now have to wait out the weather.
We make good use of the time in washing ourselves and our clothes under a stand-pipe as a young mother bathes her baby in a pail.
At 1615 the decision is made to take advantage of the high tide and make for Gizo. We pack up and are underway at 1630. It should take 2 hours.
We hug the south east coast of Vella Lavella riding the swell. ‘Hug’ means that we are between 50 and 100 metres off the coconut-lined shore.
We pass a resort and safe anchorage at Liapari Island at 1815 and head due east for Gizo – the passengers looking towards the lowering sun. The sea is still quite rough but we are heading into the wind so the spray is not too much of a problem. The sun sets and we are invited to face forwards for the last part of the voyage searching for the navigation channel markers and pointing to those which we see! The gloom gets ever darker but now we see the flickering lights of the town. We reach the wharf at 1900 hrs!! Not the best plan without any lit beacons.
So now you know: Choiseul to Gizo can take 13 hours in bad weather!
Extension Training visit (February – March 2007)
In early 2007 Chris Maina embarked on an installation and extension worker training tour spending four weeks travelling the island of Malaita from end to end. New units were launched and existing ones upgraded and much training and assistance was given to all. New software was introduced for processing the extension worker visits at HQ. New trial equipment for testing was also placed in service with various producers for in-field testing.
Expanding the local market is of vital importance to avoid the unreliable fluctuations of the export market. As producers gain and understanding they produce more oil of export quality and this is a also a better product for the local market. Wider use is being made of the by product and here we saw pigs being raised on the meal.
A new unit was completed at Hauhui. Final training was given to Suraio. Tawaiseu in the south has a vital village and exuberant team. The need for regular extension worker visits was again reinforced and there are now a three trained extension workers and a construction crew that regularly visit the far reaches of the Solomons encouraging producers.
The trip was well worthwhile and the usual travelling across the open Pacific Ocean in open boats, sleeping on village floors with mosquitoes and using the open air amenities kept Chris alert.
The Solomons strike gold! 31st August 2006.
A Solomon Islands company has won first prize, it was announced at the Asia Pacific Forum for Environment and Development (APFED) which met in Adelaide last week.
The winner of the Ryutaro Hashimoto APFED Gold Award was Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands Ltd for its project “Rehabilitating a rural economy with virgin coconut oil production”. In his acceptance speech, Mr Colin Dyer, CEO of Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands (KPSI) Ltd explained that KPSI was a joint venture with a Canberra-based company, Kokonut Pacific [Aust] Pty Ltd. Although only two years old, KPSI has installed 13 village-level virgin coconut oil (VCO) units in four Provinces. Because coconuts are produced throughout the year, the project has created permanent rural jobs for 400 men and women supporting about 3,200 people.
KPSI is helping ‘kick-start’ an ailing economy and has already exported 120 tons of Organically Certified VCO to markets in Australia, Europe and the USA. Sold as an up-market edible virgin oil in the health food sector it was beginning to gain traction with discerning consumers.
Coconut oil producers form an association 2004
The country’s first certified organic virgin coconut oil producers’ conference was held in Honiara at the end of August.
The conference, attended by 35 producers from five islands in the country, discussed topics on quality control, money management, virgin coconut oil products, -fuel and staff management of this new and growing industry. Guest speakers at the conference were from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, the Department of Planning and Aid Coordination and Kokonut Pacific Australia, which managed the international marketing of the oil. Following the conference the participants formed a Certified Organic Virgin Coconut Oil Producers Association (COVCOPA).
Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands’ Chief Executive Officer, Colin Dyer, said the formation of the Certified Organic Virgin Coconut Oil Producers Association is a great “maturing of the industry” and “shows the confidence that these rural producers have in their future.” Mr Dyer said producers need to stay together and focused on the markets already achieved while developing further opportunities in the domestic markets. “These village entrepreneurs are learning rapidly of the challenges of rural development and are taking positive steps to keep moving forward,” he said. The association is now under the care of an interim committee, who will seek formal registration and develop a draft constitution as soon as possible.
The conference was funded by EU Micro Projects. Participants hoped that the conference would become an annual event as they had gained so much insight and understanding from the guest speakers including Dr Dan from Kokonut Pacific Australia. They also learned a lot by sharing their stories, challenges and experiences with each other.
Visit to the Solomon Islands (August 2006)
Kokonut Pacific founder and Managing Director Dr Dan Etherington, Production Manager Ian Gray and Financial Director Greg Wright spent a couple of weeks enjoying the heat and humidity of the tropics and dodging mosquitoes! They helped to revamp the facilities at the Honiara Headquarters in order to cater for increased oil sales, and they spent time in the villages inspecting equipment and hearing stories of their joys and struggles. The commercial production of coconut oil is having a very positive impact on these communities. They still face many struggles, with limited communication, poor transport, inadequate schools and the lack of medical services. But it was inspiring to see the efforts of the last two years bearing fruit. As demand for the oil increases, more producers can come on stream, (there is a waiting list) thus assisting more of these island communities. Your support in purchasing our Niulife extra virgin coconut oil is vital for the continued success of these farmers.
The Solomon Islands ‘empowered’ 2005
Once crippled economically and trying in vain to make copra pay, these people now enjoy the benefits of having a regular cash flow in the villages. This has come with the production of DME® virgin coconut oil which has none of the backbreaking work associated with copra.
The empowering of the people of the Solomon Islands is taking place, as is shown by this picture of a fully loaded shipping container of DME® oil.
In June 2005, with the assistance of KPSI (Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands), two of the Solomon Islanders were able to come to Australia to meet the team here and to discuss the triumphs and problems that they were experiencing in this new venture. Their visit included a trip to the Kokonut Pacific warehouse to see their oil being moved on to the next stage. All in all it was a very productive time and many useful improvements will result from the exchange of ideas. After two days of meetings, the visitors were able to see the sights of the national capital.
However, their most lasting impression will probably be the freezing cold of Canberra's winter, coming as they did from the very hot and humid tropics.
Solomon Islands May 2004
In May 2004 Chris installed the first units in the Solomon Islands for the fledgling company Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands, KPSI.
This DME® unit was attached to a sawmill property in Honiara as the sawmill’s owners were keen to be associated with this kind of self-sufficient technology and they were very familiar with the goodness of the coconut.
Following the successful training and inauguration of the Honiara unit, Chris travelled to Malaita and installed the first unit there at Asimana. These installations have now become foundation history for KPSI.
Great news to share (2004)
We are excited by the impact that DME® Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is having on the producers, and by the appreciation of so many customers.
In the Solomon Islands a whole infrastructure has been put in place with a training unit in Honiara and clusters of units in two Provinces. The people describe the impact as a "miracle". We are pleased that this DME® Extra Virgin Coconut Oil has been granted full Organic Certification by NASAA and NOP which is also certified by NASAA.
The Solomons has been a great step of faith for us. It has been critical to our journey . In February 2004 Kokonut Pacific, a number of farmers and a local firm agreed to implement the DME® System. By June 'sheds' were built, the equipment had arrived and our Appropriate Technology engineer was ready to train operators or, more significantly, to train trainers who would supervise future building and extension services.
In addition to an operational DME® site in the capital, Honiara, KPSI found an ideal HQ in a warehouse within a stone's throw of the harbour.
Right from the beginning, we organised the DME® System so as to achieve excellent quality control and to gain Organic Certification as quickly as possible. This was critical to selling the virgin coconut oil in the international market. The team worked hard to conform to the stringent requirements of NASAA. In one sense this was easy because all the coconut farmers live in perfectly natural environments and have never seen — or heard of — chemical sprays or fertilizers. It was very much a "wild harvest" situation. The NASAA inspector was very impressed. The first shipment of fully Certified Organic DME® Extra Virgin Coconut Oil left in Mid-August 2004.
All eleven units were in operation by October and there are now regular monthly shipments of this beautiful oil. The impact on the local communities has been stunning. At least 300 people now have regular employment where before they had none.