Concerned about low yields and the poor lot of farmers, who have seen scant improvement in their livelihoods in decades, Father Rosarius Yansen Raring has built a virgin coconut oil (VCO) factory to help reverse their fortunes. The priest, who serves in Larantuka Diocese
on the eastern tip of Indonesia's Flores Island, said he is drawing on his experience as a former head of a diocesan economic development commission to help out. He decided to establish the VCO factory as a business unit of the diocese on a plot of land owned by St. Maria Goreti parish as many of its parishioners are coconut farmers. It started production on a trial basis this April and was officially launched on Nov. 1 by the diocese and Oxfam Indonesia
. Father Raring said he has dreamed for years of supporting the farmers, who have had a surfeit of supply but also a dearth of ideas regarding what exactly to do with the coconut trees, which grow freely in many of their yards.
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"Coconuts hold vast potential for these people but that potential has gone untapped for many years, as the farmers have always fallen back on traditional techniques," he said, adding his special concern lay with Adonara deanery where 728 farmers live. He said the new VCO factory has awakened the farmers from a "deep slumber" as they begin to believe it can transform their lives. "In previous years we were only able to process coconuts into dried kernels [where the oil is found] and sell them. But the prices of the kernels are very low," said Romanus Beda, 40, a farmer from Adonara Island. "Buyers only pay us about three [US] cents a kilogram," he said.
People inspect the new factory on Flores Island on Nov. 1. (Photo by Melkhior Koli Baran/ucanews.com)
Hermina Lakonawa, 45, serves as the coordinator of more than 40 coconut farmers in Adonara who will supply the factory. "Its presence gives us a new alternative," she said, adding it will likely boost the value of the fruit. Father Raring set up the factory after working for years with the farmers, who soon saw the advantages of selling the dried kernels, known as copra. "It takes five coconuts to produce a kilogram of copra. It also requires the fruit be picked, transported, split, dried and sold at market, with the net result being the farmers' collected little revenue," he said. Selling unprocessed coconuts to the factory would save the farmers time and energy while earning them higher prices, he added. No flash in the pan
One of the priest's concerns is ensuring the coconut oil factory is a sustainable business. He has already laid the groundwork for this by setting up the Sinar Saron Credit Union
in the diocese, and many of the farmers are already part of its network. He said the project is expected to significantly improve the lives of hundreds of farmers, each of whom own between 500-1,500 coconut trees. One farmer in the network called Beda said he has 500 cultivated coconut trees that he harvests three times a year. This means he can supply up to 8,000 coconuts to the church-run factory per harvest. The factory has enough capacity to process 45,000 coconuts a month. But the priest said it is unlikely to ever run out of raw materials due to the farmers' strong support. It can produce three tons of pure coconut oil a month. This will be shipped to other regions once a quarter because buyers prefer 10-ton shipments, the priest said. The results will generate an estimated 45 million rupiah (US$3,000) in monthly revenue for the farmers, almost double what they earn now, he said, adding future growth was anticipated. Indonesians distribute peeled-coconuts for vendors at a traditional market in Jakarta in this November 2017 file photo. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP) Bishop rallies community
Bishop Francis Kopong Kung of Larantuka described the factory as a dream come true for the local community and urged more people to support the scheme. "Sell your coconuts to this factory. We are ready to buy at a reasonable price," the bishop said during its official launch on Nov. 1. Antonius Hubertus Gege Hadjon , the head of East Flores district, said "this is indeed a positive breakthrough for the welfare of coconut farmers, which is in line with government programs." "Through this factory, the diocese is helping the government raise the price of coconuts, which is certainly good for the farmers," he added. Kamilus Tupen Jumad, coordinator of a local farmer's group, also praised the church for its innovative approach. "This is a concrete way the church can help our coconut farmers, who have been toiling for little reward for decades. It will help them stand on their own two feet," he said. He said he hoped the church would not only sell the coconut oil to buyers from outside the diocese, but also educate local people to buy and use it as a healthier form of household cooking oil.