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  • Ian Gray

Vanuatu - Reviving the coconut industry.

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

The Vanuatu Agricultural Research and Technical Center (VARTC) is the national research center for coconut, coffee, cocoa, root and tuber crops, breadfruit, banana, fruits/species, and livestock.


Vanuatu, across its islands, has a collection of 16 varieties of Dwarf, 14 varieties of exotic Talls and 20 populations of Vanuatu Tall coconut trees.

In May 2020, The Vanuatu Department of Trade and Industry offered to give and install a DME Press, two graters, and to build the DME Dryer at VARTC. In exchange, VARTC would obtain data by measuring coconut oil produced from the many varieties of coconuts. The Department also asked VARTC to agree to train anyone who wanted to produce coconut oil using the DME method.

Above - (1) Dehusking the coconut; (2) Coconuts spilt ready for grating; (3) Grating coconuts (4) Drying grated coconut


Before the installation of the DME Unit, VARTC produced virgin coconut oil using a fermentation process. This process is time consuming and only produces small quantities of virgin coconut oil.

Above - (5) Filling the cylinder with dried grated coconut; (6) Pressing coconut oil (7) Virgin Coconut Oil


In May 2022, the Department of Trade and Industry together with Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu (ACTIV), a not-for-profit organisation supporting local communities all over the islands of Vanuatu, have requested VARTC produce 200 litres of coconut oil each month for export to New Zealand.


VARTC produces approximately 20 litres of oil per day working a 8.5 hour day with a 1 hour lunch break.


Tiata Sileye, Head of Coconut Research and Production Dvision at VARTC says, “A lot of people like the oil produced with the DME method. It smells nice and excellent for frying, and for body oil.”


 

VARTC and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have worked together to grow coconut seedlings and distribute across the outer islands.



DARD has a target to plant 185,000 coconut seedlings throughout the country in 2023. This is part of the government’s efforts of reviving the coconut industry through the National Coconut Strategy, which aims to turn coconut into the top income earner in Vanuatu’s agriculture sector by 2026.


 

A brief history of VARTC:


In 1962, the Condominium of the New Hebrides invited the “Institute de Recherches sur les Hulles et Oleagineux” (IRHO) to conduct research studies on coconuts in the archipelago.


Research programs were initiated on the genetic improvement of this emblematic species and on cropping system associating pastures with coconut plantations. Many varieties were introduced from other parts of the World, hybrids between local and introduced varieties were created and distributed to the various islands.


The Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre Mer (ORSTOM) which was well established in New Caledonia, opened a permanent office in Port-Villa in the 1970s. Soon after, ORSTOM scientists started their research studies on soil, geography, human sciences, natural substances, and marine resources.


Just after independence (30 July 1980), the government of the republic of Vanuatu, recommended to the French Aid programme to facilitate the establishment of the “Institut de Recherches, sur le Café et le Cacao” (IRCC) in Valeteruru, on a domain adjacent to IRHO in Santo. Later, these two institutes merged with others to give birth to CIRAD (Centre de Cooperation Internationale de Recherche Agronomique pour le Developpement”). CIRAD as mandated by the Vanuatu government in 1994 to manage the new national centre resulting from the fusion of the two research stations.


In December 2002, the Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu passed the legal status of VARTC, as a corporate body in charge of research on biological resources in the country.

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