Kokonut Pacific in the Solomon Islands was founded in 1994 by Dr. Dan Etherington, an Agricultural Economist at the Australian National University in Canberra. It all started when he larned that the people of a remote Tuvalu island in the centre of the south Pacific had long ago discovered how to cold-press coconut oil from sun-dried coconut. However, the copra trade and cheap imported vegetable oils had ‘killed’ this indigenous technology. Recognizing its potential, Dan worked in collaboration with the CSIRO and colleagues to develop the indigenous technique into
an all-weather cottage-industry technology. They call it Direct Micro Expelling (DME). With the encouragement and backing of some friends, Dan set up Kokonut Pacific Pty Ltd to further refine the technology and take it back to the islands. In 1997 the company began to sell DME equipment, training and consultancy services. There are now many DME units in South Pacific, Asian, African and Caribbean countries. This accessible technology enables small coconut farmers and villagers in the remote islands to escape the virtual slavery of the copra trade to become independent coconut oil producers. Given the remote and spread-out nature of the Solomon Islands, key components of establishing and maintaining a thriving business requires strong relationships with farmers, training in agricultural efficiency and sustainability as well as business principles, communications, and logistical support. To help facilitate this complex task, Kokonut Pacific used the profits from its operation to fund a Coconut Technology Centre (CTC) in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. While this education center strengthens business and agriculture in the islands, it also empowers farmers to strive for food security through sustainability practices. Read more about the DME process and its benefits here. Watch a video about Kokonut Pacific and the DME process here.
2017 Project Overview:
Training for Rural Youth
Kokonut Pacific's first Community Development project for 2017 is titled "Farm to Market: Training for Rural Youth Economic Empowerment and the DME Model". This project provided education for 100 at-risk youth in the DME process at the CTC education center. Women and men from the islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal came to learn practical skills, spanning from business practices to local animal husbandry. Kokonut Pacific's research and development at their education center has refined these community's agricultural practices to utilize each and every by-product of the DME coconut oil process for economic and community benefit. Innovations include charcoal production from coconut shells and coconut palm wood, as well as integration of byproducts of the DME process to community use. Charcoal burning stoves are now widely used, which reduce smoke-related health problems and save forest timber firewood and expensive fossil fuels. Integrated use of coconut oil in cooking local foods to provide meals to DME workers is another way their practices are turning to efficient sustainability. The coconut byproducts once thrown away can be used for livestock feed. Animal husbandry initiatives plus this new food source has improved village food security.
2018-2019 Project Overview:
Eco Crisis into opportunity
Kokonut Pacific's next project works to mitigate the catastrophic effects of an unexpected new problem threatening the main export of these remote islands. There has been a major biosecurity crisis caused by the invasive attack of the Coconut Rhinoceros beetle (CRB) on palm trees. The infestation was first publicized two years ago, and since then the invasive species has spread all around the oil palm plantations, causing significant risks to the economic security, social cohesion, and political stability.
The results are stunning: over a four year period, the stock of coconut palms has plummeted by 77% - from about 13,000 palms in 2014 to only some 3,000 palms in 2018. Through collaboration and constructive problem solving, the decimation of the trees will be turned around to be disposed of safely while also gaining some salvage value from this crisis. Through recycling dead and dying coconut palms, this project will create lumber, charcoal, and biochar for export and local use.
The CRB beetle is infiltrating two of the main pillars of the Solomon Island rural economy, posing significant risk to the other two main species of palm exports. Because of the uncertainty of the actual extent of damage, an aerospace company was first briefed on the crisis. This company donated a time-series set of Pleiades satellite images of the area to survey the damage to the trees. After an analysis of the palm counts for 2014 as the pre-infestation baseline, then other counts in 2016 and 2018, it was known for certain that drastic steps needed to be taken to mitigate the major damage the CRB beetles are causing. Once the satellite images were analyzed, a coordinator was appointed to verify the palm damage via on site visits, establish the costs of removing the trees and converting them to lumber, fuel, and fertilizer, and manage this effort as well as the removal of breeding sites of the beetle.
In milling lumber and operating kilns, new skills and employment was brought to the community. What’s being created are building supplies, cost-effective clean fuel for domestic cooking, and fertilizer to enhance local soil productivity and crop yields. Due to its immense surface area and complex pore structure, a single gram of biochar can have a surface area of over 1000 square yards. Biochar provides a secure habitat for micro-organisms and fungi. Certain fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plant root fibers, allowing for greater nutrient uptake by plants. It also prevents some nutrients such as nitrogen from leaking into the groundwater and hence leads to increased yields. Biochar also holds gasses; recent research has proven biochar-enriched soils reduce carbon dioxide and nitrogen emissions by 50-80%.
2020 Project Overview:
Eco Crisis into opportunity
Operations continue with the burning and milling of infected and old coconut trees. A coconut seedling nursery has been set up to mitigate the damage and rejuvenate the farms. Trunks and shells are being turned into high quality biochar and lumber to create value and employment in an area in ecological crisis. The coconut shells and lumber were integrated into training sessions where the villagers learned how to make crafts, bowls, and furniture, and soap out of the recycled plant parts.
Craft activities have been very successful so far with furniture, salad and fruit bowls and servers, and jewelry boxes being made. There is a ready market for coconut shells, yet up to date these have been an almost totally abandoned resource. The production and sale of coconut-shell bowls has been a great success in sales both locally and for export. So far thousands have been sold to Australia and an order is about to leave for Singapore. A local high school has ordered shell bowls to replace plastic bowls. The shell bowls are also now being used by staff and workers at lunch time. The surprise has been the local and international market for coconut shell bowls. There is a ready supply of shells now being used in a beneficial way. Charcoal continues to be made as well, with large-scale burning pits still being constructed in new areas.
Charcoal has two great attributes that are attractive. Burning a smokeless fuel radically
reduces the need to clean pots and pans, and the fact that the fuel does not require a sophisticated stove.
The beneficial health aspects of burning charcoal indoors is a big draw as well, as air pollution is a large health issue for women in the villages. The technologies needed to make charcoal vary from highly sophisticated methods to very simple methods. Kokonut Pacific have had success with their simple pit-kilns. They are cheap to build and can be of any size. It is particularly suited to village or even individual household use. The plan for 2020 is to salvage the growing ‘mountain’ of logs into charcoal over a two-month period with more burn pits. It is anticipated that this burn project will be repeated at other locations.
The Project continues to collaborate with agricultural institutions and organisations such as SINU, MAL, Kustom Garden, Don Bosco, and the Bethesda disability complex in conducting formal experiments on the potential benefits of biochar. We thank all involved for their wonderful and forward-thinking work!