High value mission: Promoting PNG coconut oil to the world
High value coconut products – including virgin coconut oil and its derivatives – are a growing segment in Papua New Guinea’s coconut sector. With only 16 producers in the country, the output remains low, but demand is rising.
One of these businesses is Milne Bay Organics which started producing high value coconut products in 2018 and sources raw materials from nearly 100 local farmers located across four districts in Milne Bay.
The promising new business is now aiming to grow and extend benefits to the local community by promoting its brand to international markets.
In addition to its traditional virgin coconut oil, Milne Bay Organics packages soaps, infused oils, and hair and body care products for tourists visiting on cruise ships, local resellers and export markets in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
Increasing overseas demand for PNG virgin coconut oil prompted the company to upgrade its small-scale production facility and supply base to increase production volumes.
With support from Australia and New Zealand through the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus Program (PHAMA Plus), Milne Bay Organics now has 10 pieces of new and improved virgin coconut oil processing machines.
“We currently produce approximately 1,700 litres of virgin coconut oil each year using our existing production facility, mainly for the local market,” said Rhona Conn from Milne Bay Organics.
“The new set up will help us process 16,000 coconuts and produce 800 litres of virgin coconut oil per week, enabling us to cater for large orders from importers in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
“This will help us grow the volume of our exportable coconut products produced locally and create more economic opportunities for our local farming households.”
Milne Bay Organics has also strengthened its ability to source large volumes of coconuts directly from farmers to ensure product quality and consistency, as well as sharing benefits with local people.
“We’re constantly reaching out to farmers in nearby districts, to explain the quality requirements and price premium so that farmers are incentivised to supply us with the right quality at the right time,” Ms Conn continued.
Rhona’s passion is to empower local SMEs and improve the agriculture sector in Milne Bay province. However, the road hasn’t been easy. The lack of communication, infrastructure, accessibility and literacy makes sharing knowledge with the community complex.
“Training our rural communities becomes costly and slower because of the methods our teams endure to reach rural people, but it is critical, so we have to sacrifice to make it possible”, she shared.
Milne Bay Organics is empowering young people through the ‘Youth Leading Positive Change’ initiative which is training and mentoring future leaders in agricultural activities.
The initiative includes training on working with five primary cash commodities – coconut, coffee, rice, cocoa and vanilla – and includes skills like planting, crop maintenance, post-harvest processing and value-adding of resources.
“We believe that knowledge is power and key to progress, so we provide these services freely in the hopes that what they learn from us they pay forward in their communities,” Ms Conn added.
“Through our partnership with PHAMA Plus, we’re strengthening Milne Bay Organics branding and updating our website to give a new look and feel, and improve online visibility in the growing world of e-commerce.”
Milne Bay Organics will be a brand ambassador for the province and the face of PNG in the global virgin coconut oil market.
“We are but one small part of the entire chain,” Ms Conn said.
“We will not grow alone – we will all rise together.”