Commodore J. V. Bainimarama, CF(Mil), OSt.J, MSD, jssc, psc
Prime Minister of Fiji and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, the Public Service, People’s Charter and Change and Progress, Information, iTaukei Affairs, Sugar Industry and Lands and Mineral Resources

Taveuni Coconut Centre
ThursdayMarch 14th, 2013

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It’s great to be with you in Taveuni today as I continue my tour of the Northern Division.

So far this week, I have witnessed many exciting initiatives underway in the North, ranging from new health clinics and schools, to massive infrastructure improvements like our roads and jetties.

Sometimes what we do can seem small but have a huge beneficial impact on the lives of ordinary people, like the waiting shed I opened yesterday afternoon at Salia Jetty in Nayalayala.

Across a broad front, my Government is commited to delivering results to the Fijian people, especially to those living in rural and outer island communities.

I consider rural and maritime communitydevelopment as one of Government’s most important tasks. And by this, I don’t just mean providing basic services, such as water, electricity and roads. We also need to support and modernise both the industries and the small-scale trade that our rural populations rely on for their livelihoods. And where possible, we need to help them develop new economic opportunities.

The Fijian Coconut Industry was once a major source of export revenue – alongside sugar. It employed thousands of rural and maritime farmers and workers and brought in much needed foreign exchange.

In the 1950s, copra production was more than 40,000 metric tons a year. Now, it is half that - around 20,000 metric tons. This decline has been attributed to an increase in low-yielding trees, the decline in copra prices, high production and freight costs, and the inability of the industry to adapt to changes in technology and the global market. As a result, many Fijians have turned to farming more lucrative, shorter term crops, such as Yaqona and Dalo.

As I keep repeating, we are committed to ending the neglect of past governments, to make the hard decisions necessary to empower our people and give them a renewed sense of purpose. Our vision is to improve the lives of many thousands through the development of the Coconut Industry. We believe that with the right support and a smarter approach, together we can once again make this a viable commercial industry.

To this end, one of our most important initiatives is the establishment of this Whole Nut Processing Facility here inMua.

This facility – hosted at the Taveuni Coconut Centre – willoperate as a small to medium commercial enterprise, provide jobs and contribute to the local economy.

It will also serve as a hands-on training centre for Fijians to learn about the various products and bi- products that can be processed from coconuts.

We want to demonstrate different ways that coconuts can be used to earn a living, so that Fijians in rural communities have an additional strand of income.

Because the price of copra is low, coconut famers have to learn how to add value to the raw product. The machines that have been purchased for this facility - through the Coconut DevelopmentProgram – are the most modern means available to use coconuts to create a more lucrative livelihood.

In order to help Fijians enter this industry at a commercial level, Government – through the Ministry of Agriculture – has made funding available to help cover the initial costs of setting up a new business.

Additionally, once participants have been fully trained at this new facility, they will be awarded with a formal Certificate under the stamp of the Fiji National University. This certificate will serve as proof of education and will give financial institutions much more confidence in providing start-up funding to new ventures.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The transformation of the coconut industry will not happen overnight. But this new processing facility is the latest step in a coordinated and determined effort to breath new life into the industry and create new opportunities for domestic and international trade and investment.

We are also engaged in ambitious replanting programs across Fiji. In January, a campaign was launched to plant one million coconut trees over a period of three years.

We are reaching out tomembers of the international community to learn from their experience and benefit from their expertise.

And we are looking at ways to create new markets for coconut products, such as the use of coconut oil at mini bio-fuel mills designed to produce electricity for rural communities.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Agriculture for all the hard work put into this initiative. They are the foot solders in this effort to provide ordinary Fijians with better opportunities in the coconut industry, not just in Taveuni but around Fiji.

It is now my pleasure to declare the Whole Nut Processing Facility officially open.

Thank you. Vinaka Vakalevu.