Alluring aroma: The rise of high-value coconut products

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Friday, September 28 2018

Kellin Genolamar is looking forward to tapping into the export market soon with HACCP certification. PC: Samantha Rina/PHAMA

The rich aroma of freshly cooked coconut oil travelled over the seas, piquing the curiosity and interest of explorers sailing along a coast in Papua New Guinea’s Central Province. The alluring scent drew them ashore, eventually earning the Aroma Coast its name.

Hundreds of years later, the rich aroma of coconuts continues to serve the families and communities of Aroma Coast well, including Kellin Genolamar and her family. Kellin and her husband Geno own a small business, aptly named Aroma Coconut Products, which specialises in the production of high-value coconut products (HVCP) like virgin coconut oil, infused oils and soaps, to name a few.

High Value Coconut Products and Food Safety Standards

Running a business has not been without its challenges. For four years, the couple have been trying to tap into the export market; their efforts hindered by a single factor: the absence of food safety accreditation. Realising its importance, the couple began working towards this, however, for a small to medium enterprise like theirs, the process can prove challenging and costly. Things came to a halt when they were required to upgrade production facilities to bring them up to standard.

Kellin and Geno reached out to the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program, an Australian Government-funded program that helps the public and private sectors open new export markets, reopen and maintain existing access and improve the quality of export commodities. The program has since inspected the business facilities and is now working to help the business acquire Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification.

HACCP is a management system that takes a preventative approach to food safety in production processes. It attempts to avoid hazards rather than attempting to inspect finished products for the effects of hazards.

“We started off selling our products at street markets and through our networks. Domestic demand began to increase and then we decided to send an export consignment. That was our first taste of export and although there was a demand for our products, we needed HACCP accreditation to stay in the market,” said Kellin.

She said staying in business was important because marginalised groups of people depended on them. “We have widows, young mothers and youths who bring their coconuts to sell to us and I buy from them. We also have a training site at the production facility where we train women and youths from Abau District on quality control,” she said.

Theresa Arek and her family operate Amruqa, a HVCP business based on Vunakanau Estate in Rabaul, East New Britain Province. PC: Samantha Rina/PHAMA

PNG partnerships

Aroma Coconut Products is one of several HVCP businesses that PHAMA has worked with to support in partnership with the Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK), the statutory regulatory institution for PNG’s coconut industry. The program also assisted with the establishment of the High Value Coconut Products (HVCP) Industry Working Group which functions to increase export returns through value adding.

PHAMA provides assistance through identifying market opportunities for increased HVCPs exports; assisting the industry to meet market requirements on quality and continuity of supply, and assisting producers to market their products appropriately for the selected markets.

In 2016, PHAMA completed a market study to explore opportunities for increased HVCPs exports to Australia, New Zealand, China, the United States and Japan. The study identified the challenges facing HVCP producers and exporters in PNG and their capacity issues in terms of marketing, branding and quality. The findings were then used by the HVCP IWG and KIK to plan a series of interventions including:

  • The development of quality standards: Consultation with stakeholders on proposed quality standards and technical assistance to KIK and industry to develop quality standards for VCO products;
  • HACCP accreditation: Assist agribusinesses to achieve HACCP accreditation; and
  • Market development: Provide targeted marketing support to selected Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) such as branding, e-marketing, packaging, and support for potential improvements in processing, market visits and trade samples.

PHAMA also assisted Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands (KPSI) in acquiring HACCP certification. KPSI supports the wellbeing of coconut communities around Solomon Islands through the production of premium grade virgin coconut oil and other coconut products. PC: Samantha Rina/PHAMA

Samoa and Solomon Islands

Similar support has been delivered for the HVCP industries in Samoa and Solomon Islands where coconut products rank among the top five export commodities in both countries. PHAMA provided technical assistance and funding to companies in both countries to ensure they complied with Australian Quarantine standards and helped a Samoan company gain HACCP accreditation.

PHAMA provided Biosecurity Solomon Islands with training and systems development to prepare them to conduct ongoing audits to provide assurance to Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) that companies were meeting Australian standards. Three copra meal processors in Solomon Islands and a palm oil processor were certified and continue to export their meal products into Australia and New Zealand. PHAMA’s work with Biosecurity Solomon Islands meant companies gained the ability to conduct pre-audits of processors. These pre-audits highlighted compliance issues which the companies were able to resolve leading to those companies passing their second audit.

A major coconut exporter in Samoa was also accredited by DAWR and PHAMA’s support resulted in the company exporting to Australia, a reliable and large market. PHAMA’s interventions will be directly responsible for AUD 2.3million in expected improved income by the end of 2020 with improved prices flowing to approximately 800 coconut farmers in Samoa.

HVCP industries continue to be a lucrative and growing sector across the Pacific. With all the support and investment that has gone into developing the sector, it’s only a matter of time before a four-year dream comes to fruition for Aroma Coconut Products. And the aroma that once drew the world to the shores of PNG’s Aroma Coast can be shared with the world.

For further information, contact Sidney Suma at s.suma@phama.biz or on +675 7640 3290

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