Seremaiah: National Coconut Strategy launched

Here is the launching speech of Minister Matai Seremaiah: “This launching event marks the start of a 10 year journey from 2016 – 2026 to promote and develop the Vanuatu Coconut Industry. This is the first time in the history of the Coconut Industry that we have a roadmap in place for the development of the Coconut sector.
Why launch in Santo?
Without doubt Santo is the Centre of Coconut for Vanuatu. Santo produces about 50% of total national copra production. The Coconut Research Centre is based on Santo. Much of the copra milling and export done in Santo. Sometimes when copra prices fall so low the hard working farmers from Santo will continue to produce copra so it goes to say that Santo really is the true Centre for coconuts.
Why the National Coconut Strategy?
·         The national Coconut Strategy is one implementing arm of the Agriculture Sector Policy which was launched on the 26th of June last year in Port Vila. The coconut strategy not only aligns closely with the Sector policy but goes into details of what to do to achieve the policy goals for the Coconut sector.
The Coconut strategy is the first to be launched in a series of Sector Strategies being developed by the Department of Agriculture such as Kava Strategy which will be launched in August this year and others still in development stages.
·         Many products can be derived from coconut but our farmers tend to concentrate only on one single product which is copra. This National Strategy therefore highlights potential areas for diversification to value- add the coconut
·         Over the last 3 decades coconut production has drastically declined in some provinces such as Shefa and Tafea. These provinces have lost much of their capacity to produce coconuts but that capacity must be restored to support community livelihoods
·         The Vanuatu Coconut Industry has proven itself to be a resilient source of income for rural households at least over the last century so it must be supported with the right vision to maximize its growth potential to continue to maximize economic returns to farmers
·         A clear road map for the coconut sector would assist in prioritizing engagements with development partners in the sector. Indeed EDF 11 support earmarked for the Coconut sector will draw on this Strategy to plan its interventions
·         Coconut has a huge impact on the livilihoods of our people. Many times we take things for granted but when disasters strike and removes the few last standing coconut trees, peoples’ livelihoods are really affected like what we are seeing in Shefa and Tafea today after cyclone Pam. This goes to reinforce the key message of the Strategy that Coconut really is ‘’The Tree of Life’’.
So what is the National Coconut strategy saying?
The strategy is organized into 6 objectives with a list of activities proposed under each theme. These are;
1)      To introduce appropriate Administrative and Regulatory Framework to manage the sector.
·         This is very important as without this regulatory framework buyers may collude with each other at the expense of poor prices paid to farmers.
2)      Improve farmers access to planting materials
·         At the moment improved planting materials are only found on Santo at VARTC but working closely with VARTC, we could set up seed gardens in the provinces as well to allow better access by coconut farmers.
3)      Support capacity development for farmers
·         Farmers need support in specific areas to advance such as support in finance, technical information, processing equipment, etc
4)      Increase Production
·         Coconut takes up much of the best agricultural lands in Vanuatu. More efficient production systems need to be adopted in order to maximize land use while integrating systems with cattle and forestry
5)      Promote Private Sector engagement in processing and value adding
·         Very important that the private sector continues to invest in the sector not only in coconut oil but in other coconut products as well. This section talks about how that may happen.
6)      Enhance Trade and Marketing
·         This section talks about quality standards, possible funding mechanisms, tax incentive, etc
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is covered in the National Coconut Strategy. It is important to note that the strategy is a living document and it will undergo periodic review to ensure objectives are being met.
In line with spirit of this National  Coconut Strategy I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Agriculture is planning to declare 2017 as Yia Blong Kokonas. If the Council of Ministers agree this this request, then we would be expecting more coconut development activities in 2017.
Otherwise our goal in this National Coconut Strategy is to plant 100,000 coconuts trees every year for the next 10 years to achieve an end target of 1 million trees in 2026. This is something practical and I know we can do it.
In fact we are starting today as you can see being loaded is the shipment of a total of 52,000 coconut seed nuts bound for the islands Shefa and Tafea Provinces based on orders received from those provinces. These coconuts are improved selected types from VARTC which produce 2.7 tons/year.
This first round of shipment is supported partly by the Ministry of Agriculture as well the Recovery fund allocated to the Government of Vanuatu by DFAT. I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Australia for their generous support to the people of this country, especially the 2 southern provinces who have been badly affected. This shipment does not only include coconut but also a full load of the restocking of root crop planting materials such as kumala, yams, manioc, taro and island cabbage to support the farmers .
I would like also to announce that we have not forgotten the people of Central and Northern Provinces. Once the southern farmers are supplied, my staff will prepare and supply an existing order of about 40,000 seed nuts to the provinces of Sanma, Malampa, Penama and Torba. This will be funded entirely by the Government of Vanuatu through its budget support to the Department of Agriculture”.

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