THE copra industry is in a very poor state and needs the co-operation of all stakeholders to contribute positively to its revitalisation, says Copra Millers of Fiji Ltd CEO Ilisoni Taoba.
"To further revitalise the coconut industry, all stakeholders need to sit together and map out a strategic plan for the future and be mindful of the fact that coconut is a long-term crop which takes five years from planting to bearing," Mr Taoba said.
"After about 20 years of productive life, replanting may have to be considered."
Mr Taoba said a massive national replanting and new planting program needed to be considered with related incentives in place.
"The industry was once considering a planting and replanting program of 650,000 trees per year over five years to achieve the 1977 national copra production level of 30,000 metric tonnes.
"Note that the national copra production for the year 2011 was 7255 metric tonnes (source: Bureau of Statistics). Recently, a target of one million trees per year was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture.
"The coconut replanting program may have to concentrate around the major existing plantation areas of Cakaudrove, Bua and outer islands while new planting be extended to Viti Levu where vast areas of potential coconut-planting land is available."
Mr Taoba said consideration for farming areas should also be given to land that had failed beef schemes established in the 1960s and 1970s in Verata, Tailevu, upper Naitasiri, Tilivalevu in Nadroga and beef schemes in Ra.
"Dairy freehold farms in Waimaro, Tailevu North and others in Tailevu and Naitasiri may also be encouraged. In this way, the industry would be sustainable and attractive to potential investors and indeed where all Fijians contribute to the industry development.
"Approximately 100,000 people in the rural areas are dependent on the coconut industry for a living. These are people considered to be living below the poverty line."
However, Mr Taoba added that the increase in copra price was a step in the right direction.
"I would encourage coconut plantation owners to take full advantage of this government initiative to increase the copra price support to farmers from $500 to $780 per metric tonne, through improvement to farm husbandry practices to increase production, farm income and improvement to the family living standards.
"This would maintain the interest of the farmers to maintain their plantations and increase production."
The new price of $780 per tonne, he said, would mean increased household income enabling them to meet the high cost of living faced over the past 10 years.
"Improvement to their living standards in terms of home improvement, education, health, water and incentive to invest more into their coconut plantations in terms of harvesting all mature nuts regularly."