February 16, 2006

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei leaders, government and agriculture officials and others met last month to discuss the economic potential of coconut production and processing in the FSM.

A collaborative effort of the Pohnpei Office of Economic Affairs and the COM Cooperative Research and Extension Service (CRE), the Jan. 9 meeting concluded the necessity of a program to redevelop the islands' aging coconut palm populations as an initial step.

The meeting report also indicated "current scattered production, inefficient traditional technology, [and] need for research to include high productive hybrid varieties" as items for consideration in development of a successful coconut industry.

The idea to arrange such a meeting of minds was hatched by Jim Currie, vice president of CRE, upon noting the interest in and response to a regional Asia/Pacific Coconut Community meeting on the topic in the Marshall Islands in November.

Also there was a feeling, he said, that "there's a lot of people doing some little bits here and there." Currie noted the interest in and feasibility of successful coconut production in other FSM states. He said, for example, that Yap has submitted a grant request to do extension work related to coconut production in its outer islands. Chuuk, Currie said, would perhaps benefit most from the development of a coconut industry, though the state has yet to initiate a program. In Pohnpei, coconut diesel has already been gaining interest.

The Kaselehlie Press reported in its Dec. 22 issue on the potential of coconut diesel as a feasible possibility. However, as the article and others note, the low profitability of copra could prevent farmers from pursuing its production.

"The World price now is seven cents per pound and even if it is subsidized and the producer receives 13 cents, that is still an exhaustive amount of work for little return," the meeting report said. Production of other coconut products is in its nascent stages. Marketing and shipment costs have hindered expansion of products into the global market.

"Things are kind of moving," said Namio Nanpei, chairman of the FSM Coconut Development Authority. Nanpei reported orders for the agency's natural coconut products from Saipan and Rota as well as interest from Honolulu. Nanpei also reported the sale of their products via the Internet by local individuals. CDA produces products such as virgin coconut oil, coconut jam and popsicles for sale. The agency also sells copra.

"There is the expectation of a follow-up meeting," Currie commented. "We all know that we need to continue on with this." "The more we can get out of the coconut," he said, "the more we can raise the price for the farmers."