2 Sep 2013

Solomons business group wants govt to back coconut oil trade

5:22 pm on 2 September 2013

The Manufacturers Association in Solomon Islands says the government needs to get behind the coconut oil industry if the country is to compete with others in the Pacific region.

The Chairman of the Association says there is a lot of potential to develop the coconut oil industry, as the number of producers entering the business is growing, but a lack of financial support is hindering the expansion.

Sika Manuopangai told Beverley Tse, traditionally, copra is exported in raw form but with the world market price being low, many families are now processing it into coconut oil.

SIKA MANUOPANGAI: They add value to it. You have products here like coconut perfume, coconut oil, some of them are body soaps, some herbal soaps. The number of businesses that actually process coconut oil out of copra is growing here, and it's pushed by the fact that you can use coconut oil now as a substitute for fuel. In small generators back in the rural villages, it can produce power for any purposes. Some of them they use it for light. Some they use it to produce ice for fishing, to preserve fish.

BEVERLEY TSE: Where are these products currently being sold?

SM: Most of these products are currently sold locally, and I know that they are trying to export mainly to the original market. But of course I believe that everyone in the Pacific is probably doing the same thing, too. So it's a bit competitive for them. And for us to be able to sell within the region we have to be competitive. And the biggest challenge for them is our local cost, because we do not get any form... The majority of our local farmers who are actually adding value to copra do not get any form of support from the government.

BT: And what sort of support are they wanting from the government?

SM: I think the majority of them are lacking packaging material. For us, packaging material we have to import. And coconut oil is all local raw materials. And the majority of them are looking at the government to at least maybe exempt them from duty, GST, in importing packaging material. And that would allow them to be competitive, not only locally, but also within the region. Also locally we also get coconut oil from Fiji, Vanuatu, PNG here.

BT: In terms of packaging, how are they packaging their products?

SM: Currently, it's quite funny because if you look at their products at the moment, they're actually using used soft drink bottles or used water bottles to package their products. And with that, it's very hard to market, especially when you have a lid that is already open. To convince anyone to buy that is very hard.

Sika Manuopangai says the Manufacturers Association has been lobbying the government for financial support, describing it as an investment and not a costly expense.