The blessings of coconut oil in Indonesia’s Papua

DABE VILLAGE, Sarmi, Papua province – A long stretch of black sandy beach on the fringe of Dabe village lies empty. It is 10 a.m. on a Tuesday – a workday – but nobody is out fishing in the nearby waters.

Villagers were instead busy chopping coconuts by the hundreds and extracting the meaty, inner lining rich in oil known as copra. Others were using presses to shred cut coconut, later extracting the oil. Among them were Wainan Namantar, Teroji Baswa and Zacharias Namantar.

Higlights

  • Dabe residents are taught how to produce crude coconut oil in a project funded by New Zealand Aid (NZAID) and jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and BAPPENAS
  • After training, villagers produce 400 liters of coconut oil per month, providing them with a monthly income of IDR 4.8 million
  • The coconut oil training is part of UNDP’s People-Centered Development Programme, which aims to harness existing local capacity and economic opportunities to improve livelihoods
  • Health certification for the finished, refined cooking oil has been acquired, and it is now sold in shops in Sarmi and Jayapura, Papua's capital

About 3,300 hectares of Sarmi regency is covered with coconut trees, according to 2013 government figures. Of this, at least 500 hectares of that coconut-laden land is in the district of Pantai Timur Barat, where Sarmi lies. Coconut is the most readily available commodity across Sarmi, but because it is so plentiful it is often treated like garbage.

Over four days in May 2014, dozens of Dabe residents were taught how to produce crude coconut oil in a project funded by New Zealand Aid (NZAID) and jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and BAPPENAS. Before the training, ten coconuts produced one liter of oil priced at IDR 10,000 (75 US cents). Today, once sold to a refinery in Kuentor in Sarmi, it is priced at IDR 12,000 per liter (US$1).

Teroji said within a few short months of the training Dabe’s villagers produced 400 liters per month, providing them with a monthly income of IDR 4.8 million (US$360).

Zacharias said the group of coconut choppers and shredders that he led in Dabe made IDR 2 million (US$150) in November 2014. “This is a huge change from what was happening in previous years,” he said. Wainan agreed. “We never did anything with the coconuts except eat them.”

Wainan said in past years the men in Dabe fished from March to October while the women gathered and hunted for food in the surrounding forest. The men went to sea at 4 a.m. and returned at 1 p.m., selling the fish, shrimp and crabs they caught at IDR 30,000 (US$2.50) a kilogram.

Things changed in 2014 after the trainings in Dabe and Yamna. Villagers, ranging in age from their 20s to the late 50s, learned how to chop coconuts quickly and effectively, to shred coconut using expeller presses and to separate the clear crude oil from the thick brownish mush that they use themselves for cooking.

Wainan, Zacharias and Teroji are three of the more than 300 people in Sarmi who have benefited from the project that aims to boost the economic welfare of Papuans. The program’s focus is on the extraction of oil from coconuts, post-harvest training in the production of cooking oil and assistance with operating production factories.

 

Factories

The project does not focus on extracting crude oil from coconuts alone, said Ferdinand Leohansen Simatupang, who specializes in local economic development and is part of the UNDP’s People-Centered Development Programme (PCDP), which aims to harness existing local capacity and economic opportunities to improve livelihoods. Health certification has been acquired from the Food and Drug Agency (BP-POM), and the finished, refined cooking oil, called PHICO, is sold in shops in Sarmi and in Jayapura, Papua's capital city.  

“We want to get serious about selling PHICO refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil for cooking purposes, and because of this, the regency of Sarmi collaborated with us to set up two homemade factories,” Leohansen said. He added that one factory was in Kuentor and another in Yamna, both in Sarmi.

Sarmi Regent Mesak Manibor agreed that the best way forward for local economic development was the establishment of factories for coconut oil production. Eventually they hope to have a marketing plan to sell the oil across Papua, he added.

“We have so many coconut trees here. The coconuts fall on the ground and nobody does anything with them. It is a waste,” Mesak said. “It is best that they can be turned into refined cooking oil that can eventually be sold widely as a non-cholesterol, healthy cooking oil.” 

 

Making ends meet

Dabe resident Sarlotta works to produce PHICO by chopping and shredding coconuts every day. She comes from a family of eight children, and said she was thankful for the work. “Our parents focused on educating the boys. The girls in the family stopped going to school at age 15. We have worked ever since,” Sarlotta said.

“My family needs money, so I decided to learn how to cut up coconuts, get the inner whites out, wash it and shred it. I can make about IDR 200,000 (US$15) a month. I can get detergent, salt, fuel, sugar, food and rice.”

The same goes for Dorce, who is able to send her two sons to school as a result of chopping coconuts and shredding coconut bits. “One son is now in junior high school, and another in senior high school. This is because of the IDR 400,000 (US$30) a month I make doing this work with coconuts. They can get an education and do not have to help the family out to make money.”

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