Turaga Tui Macuata,
Vanua of Macuata,
Distinguished guests and trainees;
Bula vinaka and good morning to all of you.

It is indeed an honour to be with you this morning to close this important training on whole nut processing here in Dreketi, Macuata. “The training at Dreketi ends today but the actual journey begins tomorrow. There is no end; it’s just a new beginning”.

First I would like to thank you all for your presence for this very important event, as it provides an opportunity to create interest, learn and strengthen the ailing Fiji coconut industry.

Coconut Industry serves as a significant importance to the Fijian economy due to its contribution to economic and social wellbeing of most rural based population. It has proven over the years to be an important source of livelihood for most rural and maritime people, even though the performance of the industry has been on the decline since 1970s. Its resilience has encouraged Government to continue to rehabilitate and develop this industry which supports an estimated 100,000 farmers who are dependent on it for livelihood.

I want us to remember our young days. Majority of us used to enjoy our food which was cooked in the coconut oil and cream (lolo), the only lotion we had was coconut oil, whenever we had cuts and bruises we applied coconut oil for fast healing, our babies were massaged with coconut oil, daily our mothers swept our houses with the broom made from coconut leaves and vegetables from our gardens were gathered in coconut weaved basket. Coconuts provided a nutritious source of food, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished Fijian people for generations. This training has revived some of these memories amongst you trainees.

The long history of usage and diverse studies done to characterise and define the composition of the various components of the of the coconut tree. Every part of the coconut tree and its fruit can be either consumed by humans or animals or converted into other valuable products. If properly utilised, the coconut has the highest economic, value among the palm family. This is why coconut tree is normally refered to as the treee of life, man’s most useful tree, king of tropical flora, tree of abundance.

Coconut tree has a life span of 60-80 years, and is considered as “three generation tree” as it can support the farmer, his children and grand children. These trees were planted by our forefathers and still being used to date. The current trees are not yielding as much as it used to and the yields are declining with time. What do we have installed for our future generation? There is an urgent need to replace these old trees. According to former US president JFK, “If not us than whom and if not now than when”. I urge you all to replace/replant the existing senile plantations now so that your future generations can benefit from your efforts of today.

In 1875, about 2,400 tons of copra was exported and two years later with a production of 4372 tons and export earnings of £54,642 (FJD$151,910), copra become Fiji’s principal coconut export. The copra production was over 40,000 tonnes in the year 1952 but recently it has declined to about 2000 tonnes annually (95% reduction). In Fiji, about 35 percent of the coconut production is converted into copra which is 39,000 ha of productive trees. This is estimated to give us 62,000 tons of copra. Small-holder farms supply 80 percent of the copra with plantations contributing 20 percent. Copra production coming from plantations has declined over the years due to the lack of reinvestments because of poor price and high costs of production and freight. Copra remains the most traded coconut commodity in Fiji amongst rural and maritime communities. Fiji has around 10 million coconut trees scattered around in an area of approximately 65,000 ha of land. Majority, 70% of it is in the Northern division.

Desicated coconut, coconut milk/cream, and coconut oil are the most popular edible commercial products derived from fresh coconut meat (kernel). The meat is very nutritious as it contains dietry fat, dietery fibre, protein, carbohydrates, microminerals such as potassium and phosphorous, and vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin. 
Coconut water, which is the liquid inside the coconut fruit, has also been shown to contain microminerals and nutrients which are essential to human health. Because of health benefits and special flavour of young coconut water, a niche market has been evolved domestically for our local Bu (drinking water). The newest high value coconut product, which is becomimg a by-word in coconut producing countires such as Fiji is Virgin Cococnut Oil (VCO). The growing demand for VCO can be attributed tp increasing medical research, anecdotal reports and internet information extolling the beneficial effects of cocnut oil on humans body. The fast developing niche and high value markets for VCO as a food supplement, as a body moisturiser and carrrier oil for aromatherapy, as a hair conditioner and as other applications, is generating a great deal of interest among coconut farmers and the landowners, Bussinessman and enterpreneurs. Fast developing Niche markets for VCO products are a possible source for improving livelihoods and incomes of these stakeholders.

The Ministry of Agriculture through the Crop Extension Services and Research division promotes overall development of coconut as part of a farming system whilst focussing on the rehabilitation of existing field and plantations. This year the Ministry was allocated a budget of $750,000 under the coconut development program for the establishment of 531 ha of coconut plantation across the coconut growing areas in Fiji. The Ministry over years have also provided support for the industry through infrastructure development and provision of technical advisory services to the stakeholders.

The theme for this training is economically empowering and enhancing coconut knowledge base in communities in the rural sector. This training provides knowledge and skills on whole nut processing and value adding. Apart from generating income, the coconuts help to sustain household food and nutrition and alleviate poverty. The purpose of this training is to promote and create interest amongst the trainees in order to rejuvenate the ailing industry. The training also focuses on productivity and product diversification from traditional copra production to whole nut processing. 

The Fijian government through Ministry of Agriculture is fully committed to rehabilitating the coconut industry and part of this rehabilitation work is to promote utilisation of whole nuts in order to supplement their income. According to famous writer, Arthur Ashe “Start where you are, Use what you have, Do what you can”. With the limited resources you have and the knowledge gained over these 2 weeks start where you are, use what you have and do what you can to produce value added coconut products. From different areas you come from, there are different resourses available so my plea to you is use whatever resources you have and add value to this industry and improve your livelihoods. I am confident that you all will utilise these skills and knowledge gained from this training in creating various coconut based products in your communities as an alternative source of livelihood. 
So let’s work hand in hand to create that atmosphere of anxiety, hope and progress of this once vibrant industry. 

Thank you, Vinaka vakalevu and Dhanyavad