Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community


Posted On: September 8, 2015

The Tonga National Youth Congress is searching for new markets to absorb an increasing supply of organic virgin coconut oil (VCO) and to launch the value adding of VCO products as operations boom in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Congress chairperson Drew Havea has been meeting with buyers in Australia, New Zealand and the United States this past month in a bid to secure a market large enough to buy all the VCO they can produce. “We have an existing market, currently providing to Heilala Vanilla in New Zealand but the whole operation is getting bigger and we need to move volumes,” Mr Havea said. The Council supplies Heilala as high as two hundred 20 litre buckets in a good month and sometimes the quota is only 50 buckets. However, TYNC has the capacity to produce as many as 400 buckets a month if all of their 16 sites throughout Tonga are in full production.

“We have a surplus and we want to supply at the full capacity we can produce,” Mr Havea said. “We need a bigger market because we want to ship all the VCO to one place.” However, alternatively securing several little markets to absorb value added VCO products is also an option. “We have been having meetings in New Zealand and in Adelaide and just met with Oxfam trading arm because they have stores throughout Australia and discussing our desire to improve products we are making from organic coconut oil,” he added.

Another option is developing local markets in Tonga and Pacific Island countries for the use of VCO in cooking. Organic VCO production is a strategy by TYNC to respond to increasing youth unemployment in the kingdom as the national body committed to dealing with youth issues. TYNC works with about 5,000 youth in the kingdom.

“Part of the project was getting young people to choose agriculture as a first choice vocation because we see agriculture as the answer to young people in Tonga. “But at the same time concerns about the environment were expressed by our youth so we got moving towards organics that also benefitted our efforts in securing niche markets.”

The VCO production process and the product are certified organic through the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia’s third party certification process. OXFAM New Zealand and Women in Business Development Inc of Samoa assisted TNYC in establishing the programme and costs for certification that amounts to $30,000 a year is subsidised by the Government of Tonga.

Virgin coconut oil production is setup in 16 sites across Tonga supported by a partnership framework. The communities make the oil that TYNC buys for 50-75 Tongan pa’anga. Earnings finance community development plans with particular emphasis on youth and a savings funds.

However, it’s an arrangement that is often vulnerable to the dictates of communal and familial obligations.
“We found out that communities have their own schedules, and important matters to attend to like funerals, other functions and commitments so they stop and go attend to this. “What we can expect from communities now is six to ten buckets a week at their own capacity and pace.

“In the beginning we thought to push them but that’s not how things work because they have their own priorities.” As a buttress for drops in community VCO production, TNYC setup its own sites. Just two sites in Eua and Kolomotu’a in Tongatapu produces 100 buckets.

“We are building another three, the Niufoou site we intend to activate this year and next year the Vavau and Haapai sites. “So by December next year if everything works out we will have six sites running full throttle. But first we need the markets.”

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