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Business

Growing virgin coconut oil industry with passion

February 16
11:13 2013

Compiled by RACHNA LAL

Welcome to Hard Talk, where we pose questions to both top executives and budding entrepreneurs on some of the major issues involving business.

In 1999, Jim Bandy, the managing director of ALSO Island Limited, which operates in the North, set sail from USA to sail around the world on his yacht.
This was when Mr Bandy stumbled across Fiji. He has since made Fiji his home. Today Mr Bandy is a proud Fijian.
Mr Bandy said: “We were not looking for a place to settle. It just happened.
“We were presented with an opportunity to make a contribution in Udu, to make a difference with people who needed help and we took it.
“I have given it my best effort and it has been, for the most part, quite rewarding.”
ALSO Island Limited holds three business certificates.
They build and repair boats, press virgin coconut oil (VCO), and also have rooms for backpackers.
But the business which stands out is the production of virgin coconut oil which not only benefits the company, but also the community.
Island Virgin Coconut Oil buys coconuts from the local community, and also provides employment to these people.

Questions for Jim Bandy, managing director of ALSO Island Limited:

1. What unrealised potential do you believe lies in virgin coconut Industry oil in Fiji?
I believe that virgin coconut oil can provide many small growers and producers with the ability to have an income from coconut.

2. How can Fiji benefit from this industry on an economic scale?
Fiji is already benefiting from VCO. There are some people marketing coconut oil and VCO. Please note I define two oils and there is a major difference between the two. Copra oil is not fit for human consumption without further refining. That refining removes many of the health benefits of un-refined VCO.
For Fiji to realise the full benefits of VCO we must establish a reputation for producing the very highest quality VCO and make sure we differentiate between VCO and coconut oil made from copra or even oil made using improper equipment.
Fiji will never be able to compete with the Philippines or Indonesia because of their volume and labor costs. So Fiji has to promote a quality reputation and the Fiji Tall coconut.
The Fiji Tall coconut has desirable chemical properties that other coconuts do not have. We need to unify around these issues and build a reputation nationally for the Highest Quality Virgin Coconut Oil that contains all of the natural benefits of VCO with no chemical refining or preservatives after pressing.
The real benefit, economically, will come from taking the processing to where the coconuts are and thereby allowing more of the proceeds to be kept with the growers and producers; not transportation and middle men.

3. Coconut is also found in other countries. What sets coconuts in Fiji apart from the rest?
The Fiji Tall Coconut Tree is the first thing that sets us apart. The fact that we have largely or completely organically grown coconut plantations is extremely important.
The story of our growers and their efforts is important. We need to develop integrity in our product. The Fiji Tall coconut trees organically grown, far from pollution is very important. High Quality VCO needs to become our trade mark.

4. What should be done to make this industry more economically-viable?
We have to produce enough VCO of the Highest Quality on a consistent basis to be able to satisfy a buyer or buyers.
We also need to market our products on the internet through a retail operation; promoting our organic environment and High Quality. We need to develop and promote standards for processing and Quality. ALSO Island, Jim Bandy, is working on both of these issues. All of this will provide jobs and export income.

5. What are some challenges you face with your operations?
First, and foremost is help! I find it difficult to find reliable, trustworthy, responsible and accountable help.
Second, is finances. We, my wife and I, are just two retired people living on a small retirement income. We did not come to Fiji to do business; we were on a world cruise, and most people would say we are in way over our over our heads financially.
But we are doing something beneficial, even with our limited assets. Transportation and communications are a constant challenge in Fiji. Poor Telephone service, no internet and poor roads in our area really holds us back.

6. How can Government assist?
I am not big on Government help but, helping those of us already involved with attempting to create the VCO industry would be a place to start. Addressing the challenges mentioned above would be good for everyone. The planting initiative is good. Many of the plantations are quite old.
Engaging our foreign offices to help us to find markets could be of great help. I think government is trying to assist. Fiji has limited financial resources and we need to use them wisely without corruption. There is so much un-realised potential in Fiji. It makes me cry to see that potential go un-realised.

7. What do you think of Government’s plant a million tree initiative?
I really am not well enough informed to say it is necessary. My understanding is that many if not most coconut plantations are quite old. So . . . if we are going to restore the coconut industry new trees or plantations are necessary.
A senile tree does not produce nuts in good numbers and there is evidence that coconut nuts from these trees do not produce as good VCO as a tree in its prime. I believe that many of the trees need to be replaced.
My understanding is that a Fiji Tall should be replaced after 75 or 80 years to maintain the best production. Coconut is important to Fiji and new ways to market it are being found, VCO for one should tell us we should plant new trees to maintain our resource. If not it goes away.

8. You came to Fiji upon retirement. What has attracted you to remain in Fiji after so many years?
As I mentioned I wanted to sail around the world on my own boat. We arrived in Fiji in 2002 and found their village boat broken. I decided I wanted to see it run again so I purchased and installed another engine and got it running. That had a major impact on the community.
Seeing the benefits accomplished by that made me feel good. With the boat running other opportunities became obvious. Kyoko and I did things that needed to be done and we could afford. Our rewards were seeing people seize opportunities and try to better themselves.
The more we did the more there seemed to be done. I was raised to believe I was to do something important and I believe what I am doing is important. I believe when one discovers their “mission” one should pursue it with vigor.
That will bring rewards of the heart and soul that you cannot find otherwise. The more I do the more there is to do, so . . . I am still here.

9. What would you say about the international demand for virgin coconut oil?
As I see on the internet and by the research being done the VCO market is just opening. I think there is a growing demand for High Quality VCO, worldwide.
I am concerned that we need to protect a High Quality reputation so that maximum health benefits are obtained. That is necessary to keep the market growing and carve out a niche market for ourselves.

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