18 Nov 2015

Vanuatu coffee farmers face long wait

From , 5:03 am on 18 November 2015

Coffee farmers on the island of Tanna whose crops were destroyed by Cyclone Pam in March are facing a long wait till their next crop is ready for harvest.

Some whose coffee plants survived the cyclone are hoping for a good harvest next year while others will not see a single coffee bean until 2018.

A joint initiative completed in August by UNDP, Vanuatu's agriculture and provincial authorities and Tanna Coffee, aimed to help revive the industry by providing clearing and pruning assistance to badly damaged coffee farms all over the island throughout July and August.

Benson Samuel of Tanna Coffee worked on the initiative, and told Koroi Hawkins farmers on the island are grateful for the assistance, but still face a long wait till their next harvest.

BENSON SAMUEL: Some of the trees that have not been damaged, they are expecting to get a few couple of cherries next year. Right now as I am talking to you the coffee trees have good flowers especially the coffee that has not been pruned and it has not been damaged badly by the cyclone. But the trees that we have cut and cleared they, I think it will take another three years to put on the first flowers again.

KOROI HAWKINS: So a huge blow to the industry on Tanna, how are you coping with supplying your export markets or where do you sell it do you just sell to Port Vila?

BS: We cater for our local domestic market and maybe I would say 60 percent is sold out to our overseas market. That is Australia including New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa,  Malaysia and a few others. I cannot comment on that further but I know that the managing director of Tanna coffee has been looking around but really it is difficult. We want to get a very, very, very similar coffee to ours so that we can export. But at the moment I couldn't disclose what is happening now. But we are lucky that we still have our stock, our stock is still full so we are just concentrating on doing our roasting and packaging on our part.

KH: And looking to the future was there any thought put into, I don't know, strengthening the way the trees are protected from cyclone events and future possible storms? Is there any thought going into that risk resilience?

BS: I think we have a, we are trying to establish a very strong relationship with the agriculture department and maybe we are looking to grid inter-cropping regime within the coffee plantations so that it could assist sometime in the future, especially when we have cyclones such as Pam or Uma, the one who hit Vanuatu on 1987. But I still, I still think that experts should, we should seek a lot more expertise from the agriculture department and maybe the industry department so that they can give more awareness on what we can do to secure our coffee trees.