Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Visiting a Copra Farm

June 8, 2011

My driver from the Women in Business Development (WIBD) organization made several stops as we circled the island of Savaii. He visited farmers for the WIBD while I delivered Samoa Challenge materials to the Peace Corps Volunteers.

I sat in on one of his stops. This farmer, who has been the showcase for the WIBD’s project to sell Number 1 Certified Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil to the Body Shop in England to make soaps and lotion, illustrated the problems he and others face.

To produce several pails of oil, he must first get his land certified as an organic farm. This meant leaving his coconut groves chemical free for a few years. He then had to get machines to ream out the coconut pulp, a large evaporating vat to render the oil from the pulp, then a press to squeeze out the oil. The process takes eight men one week, plus the expenses of food and fuel. For this he got about $2,000 (USD). He actually lost quite a bit of money on the oil produced.

However, he can make four times as much with eight men in two days gathering and heating the same amount of coconuts to make copra, the oil of which is also used to make soap and other products. Although this man wants to work with WIBD and believes in their work, economics dictated otherwise.

WIBD promised him the receipt to make his own soap from the coconut oil, but they have yet to give it to him. Of course, this would reduce the amount of oil exported, but greatly benefit the farmer and local village. It might also put into question the entire coconut oil program currently funded by foreign doners.

He also baked bread which he sells commercially. I told him I also bake bread, but suggested he make fruit jam which he can easily do and sell it along with his bread. What a great idea! I promised to return to show him how to make fruit jam and critique his bread.

The conundrums are great between donor agencies, NGOs, and the people they are designed to benefit. There is always some report that needs to be written about the successes of a particular program and another trip to some conference. Like NGOs anywhere in the world, including the U.S., the first people at the trough are the NGO directors and employees.

Meeting with a coconut farmer

Grinding out coconut meat as part of oil production process

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