August 20, 2019

Partnership Profile: Cracking the coconut in Samoa

Partnership Profile: Cracking the coconut in Samoa

A Pacific Partnership Profile

Now 18 months in partnership, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Samoan manufacturer Krissy Co., Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand (Fairtrade ANZ) and the Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association (SCFA) consider the successes of the partnership and navigating challenges together in creating a sustainable coconut cream export business.  

The island of Savai’i in Samoa is rich in a valuable resource – coconuts – and yet these regularly go unharvested. Local manufacturer Krissy Co. often finds itself short of supply for its coconut cream product, while farming families on Savai’i are keen to grow their incomes.

It sounds like an easy match – yet building a viable and sustainable business opportunity in Samoa takes more than an idea. It takes local knowledge, committed investors and business know-how. Finding all this expertise in one organisation is difficult, but partnering can create opportunities and produce mutually beneficial outcomes.

In 2017, four partners, each with unique skills and experience, came together to build this idea into a scalable and sustainable business while creating jobs, income and empowering women.

The result? There’s still a way to go for the initiative, yet farmers are already reporting favourable prices and more positive outlook, while Krissy Co. is expanding its operations, hiring staff and increasing production.

We look at what’s been achieved and the diverse skills and experience each partner brings to this shared value partnership.

Krissy Co. is building its business

Businesses in the Pacific face common challenges: high transport costs, a low resource base, and small populations. To help overcome these challenges, Krissy Co. has worked with Fairtrade ANZ since 2012 to develop a lightweight and high-value product for export. It is now the sole exporter of Samoan coconut cream.

However, as exports grew, supply remained an issue for the business. Fairtrade ANZ and Krissy Co. worked together to establish the SCFA as a way to bring farmers together, in turn creating a steady and reliable supply of organic, Fairtrade certified coconuts.

As a BPP partner, DFAT has co-invested in the partnership, helping Krissy Co. to construct a warehouse in Apia, employing 16 new staff and operating five days a week. This increase, up from three days previously, allows Krissy Co. to produce higher volumes of their fresh coconut cream, critical to their growing business.

Farmer association, SCFA, is creating income and opportunities

Coconut Farmer in Samoa

“I’m planting new trees to create a future for my children. The land was going to be used for taro, but now that we have SCFA, we see the value in coconuts. It provides us with a reliable income, all year round,” Niuia Fala, member of the Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association. Photo © Vanu Studios

One of the challenges of coconut farming in Samoa is bringing added value to a crop which has long fetched mediocre prices at market. The SCFA, as a farmer association, is important as it can apply for certifications on behalf of their members – like organic and Fairtrade. These certifications enable farmers to fetch a higher and more consistent price for their coconuts, and Krissy Co. to make their products viable for export.

The SCFA also plays an important role in helping farmers to respond to challenges in the supply chain – such as mobilising the community to increase supply to meet the demands of Krissy Co.’s increasing production.

One collective challenge is to expand the participation of women, who currently represent 13% of the association’s 111 members. When asked why there were relatively few women, farmers said that men have more time to go to meetings but women are busy in the home.

SCFA is responding to this challenge, and has recently appointed two women to its five-person leadership team. They are also expanding memberships to households, in recognition of the shared work done by men and women to collect and husk the coconuts.

There is much more to do to ensure that women can benefit from taking a more active role in coconut farming and association decision making. And with good reason: as one farmer said, “the women who come to the meetings share their ideas”. “Actually”, he added, “the women have the best ideas”.

DFAT is strengthening trade and empowering women

The partnership is helping to meet DFAT’s development priorities in Samoa by stimulating business growth, creating opportunities for stable and increased incomes for farmers, and working to enable more women to participate in the coconut supply chain as association members and leaders.

Coconut Farmer in Samoa

“I’m a single woman, that’s why I joined the SCFA. Coconuts are good for our family. It helps us pay the power bills, the water bills, and school. If we didn’t receive the premium price from supplying organic coconuts, no-one would help me.” Laaloa Vaafusuaga, member of the Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association. Photo © Vanu Studios

Fairtrade ANZ is helping communities to thrive

Since 2012, Fairtrade ANZ has provided technical expertise and support to SCFA to help them to grow into a strong and resilient small business, achieving Fairtrade certification and to deliver higher and more consistent returns to farmers. This is part of a wider goal for Fairtrade ANZ, which aims to “support the development of thriving farming and worker communities to have more control over their futures, and protect the environment in which they live and work.”

The Fairtrade Premium returned to SCFA has helped to shift mentalities surrounding coconut as a subsistence crop, and has been used to invest in improved machinery and water infrastructure to address issues identified by SCFA in the harvesting process and within their communities.

Coconut Farmers in Samoa

Farmers from the Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association. Photo © Vanu Studios

The partnership is leveraging complementary skills to overcome challenges

Building supply and markets for added-value products such as Fairtrade coconut cream is an ongoing challenge, requiring partners to be constantly reviewing and improving processes. The farmers’ association recently passed a Fairtrade audit which means Krissy Co. can continue to sell its coconut products as Fairtrade certified and the farmers association receives a premium for the coconuts it supplies. Reviewing and improving also means making sure that the benefits of the business are accessible to the whole community – including women.

However, as the partners reflect on and learn from their successes to date, one thing is clear: the complementary skills and experience each organisation brings will allow them to continue to create positive outcomes for communities in Savai’i, one coconut at a time.

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