(SAMOA)–Samoa's Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) Lopao'o Natanielu Mua blasted the American Heart Association (AHA) for its "negative propaganda" published about coconut oil which has impacted the export of coconut products from the Pacific to the world.
Lopao'o made the comments when he opened the inaugural Coconuts For Life meeting at Taumeasina Island Resort on Monday morning, 30 September, 2019.
During a recent meeting of the International Coconut Community (ICC) that took place in Manila, Philippines, "quite a lot of time" was spent discussing "a strategy to counter the AHA stance," he said.
"In the health and nutrition sphere, coconuts have become an important oil-based ingredient in the fight against non-communicable diseases and other health issues...some of our Pacific island counties have exported organically certified coconut oil products for the manufacturing of key health products of high demand in the world," said Lopao'o.
"We are all aware of the negative propaganda promoted by the American Heart Association and others so we need to reaffirm our collective support to promote the health and nutrition benefits of the coconut as well as its personal care oil elements internationally. During a recent meeting of the ICC in Manila, we spent quite a lot of times discussing how we can counter the American Heart Foundation stance. I'm sorry about the Americans, I mean this is the Pacific and we are very very passionate about our tree."
New Zealand and Australia were thanked for their support and he called upon the region's international partners to help combat the AHA's claims that coconut oil is bad.
This is the first Coconuts for Life meeting to be convened said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the MAF, Tilafono David Hunter. He noted that the coconut tree is often referred to as "the Tree of Life" in Samoa and other parts of the region because of its numerous uses for food and other purposes.
Negative information disseminated about coconut oil is coming from nations where crops such as corn are cultivated and processed for oil. It is motivated by economic interests, Tilafono said.
The challenges presented by the AHA are among a number of threats that hinder international trade of coconut products for the Pacific.
One newfound menace to the coconut trade is a vicious species of the rhinoceros beetle that is destroying coconut crops in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG's coconut market is also fighting a germ called the Bogia Coconut Syndrome, said Tilafono.
"The coconut tree that has brought us in Samoa the most benefits is the Samoa Tall. We do have to deal with the rhinoceros beetle (manu ai niu) but another type of beetle has been recently identified, affecting the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. There is also a germ called the Bogia Syndrome affecting Papua New Guinea," Tilafono said.
"In this meeting, we are looking at solutions to these challenges. It's true we (Samoa) have to deal with the rhinoceros beetle but it's nowhere close to what the other countries are facing with the other beetle. We have scientists here and they will help us find ways to keep this other beetle out of Samoa and especially the Bogia Syndrome which is in Papua New Guinea."
Lopao'o and Tilafono said 50 percent of the Pacific's coconut trees are senile and replanting is necessary. Replanting to meet the demands of the coconut market is one big issue facing 14 Pacific countries and Timor Leste, said Naheed Hussein, Coconut Development Officer, Pacific Program, SPC Land Resources Division.
There is a high demand for coconut products but not enough coconuts to meet the demand.
"While this is the second boom of coconuts following the first boom in 1910 to the 1930s regarding copra, this second boom on coconuts really relates to the diversification of coconut products. A lot of coconut products are coming in which also relates to the health benefits," Hussein said.
"But we have a real issue on the production level. The palms that were planted 40 years or 50 years ago are the ones currently bearing fruit. As coconuts get older the yields are lessened. The production level is currently very limited with a hig demand. In order for us to make our mark in the region we seriously need to look at replanting initiatives."
The market is there, the demand is there but the supply is not enough, he added.
"Quality is very important as well. There are some gaps in the value chain in the Pacific itself. We need good technology because there is a lot of work load. We need standards to be implemented...to do all this we basically need to upgrade ourselves. There are risks...we are a very fragile industry in the Pacific," Hussein said.
"We have a lot to learn from Asia and that's why we are trying to build that sort of knowledge sharing with Asia. We have a problem with pests and disease. One is the coconut rhino beetle and we are proud that Samoa is taking a good lead in terms of trying to control and manage it. Let's work as a region to combat these pests and disease, share the market among the Pacific region, promote domestic consumption as well. We don't want to sell all our products overseas while we eat something else....overall, let's work together to promote this industry."
The Coconuts For Life meeting is a 'side event' of the 2nd Biennial Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) that has brought some 200 participants from 28 countries to Samoa.
The PWA closes on 4 October.
***This story written based on information gleaned from video interviews conducted by WTMedia Samoa.