Product diversification in the plan for Vanuatu’s Malekula Oil

“Malekula Pure Virgin Coconut Oil is lovingly handmade by the women of Vinmavis Village, on the remote island of Malekula, Vanuatu” aptly reminds buyers of the origins of the virgin coconut oil.

As one reads the brochure, it evokes a sense of warmth, tenderness and love and it’s perhaps these instincts and the resilience of those behind the business that has seen it navigate the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Founder Neil Netaf said Covid-19 has little impact as the main big business buyer in Port Vila still continues to buy from them on monthly basis.

This is Netaf’s story.

The journey

It started in 2012 after returning from 9 years working in Fiji at USP. Having worked in the development field for more than 20 years locally and regionally; I’ve always yearned to translate those expertise I have into something practical on the ground. Being the Head of the Center of Continuing and Community Education at USP now known as Pacific Technical and Further Education (TAFE) we conducted various short term vocational courses. One in particular is the Smoked Fish course that attracted a lot of women in villages outside of Suva to attend as it enhances their skills to value add their catches to earn extra to support their living.

Though we didn’t conduct any Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) making course, I did learn a lot of from VCO home making even bought several bottles for family consumption in Suva.

I thought this would be an ideal venture to venture into when we return home to Vanuatu given the many valued opportunities that can be derived from VCO and the chance it can help women who tirelessly labored year in year out the tedious tasks involved in copra making,

Therefore upon our return in 2011 in Vanuatu and after 12 months of settling in; my wife and I decided to involve the women in my village Vinmavis on the west side of the island of Malekula In small scale VCO production. IN 2012 we organized an in house training in Luganville Santo we brought three women from the village to attend. The idea of forming the village women virgin coconut oil was discussed then. Therefore the Vinmavis Organic Virgin Coconut Oil (VOVCO) project was launched in May 2013 at the Provincial Center in Lakatoro attended by officials from both public and private sectors.   

Challenges back then

There were few challenges then. The change of attitude from copra making to VCO being a new concept the idea of women forming a village VCO cooperative business. Who and how it is going to be managed the new concepts of running a cooperative business, keeping records etc working closely with the Provincial Department of Cooperatives A totally new venture for village women venturing into business.

The challenges of running an effective management committee.

Lessons learnt

One of the important lesson is the notion the level of literacy of a new business venture at the e village is very low or non-existent it’s all starting from scratch. Mentoring and coaching are crucial along the journey or the project is up to fail. Linking the women’s cooperative with appropriate support external agencies is also important such as the Departments of Cooperative, Trade and Agriculture

As a development expert I have foresaw these lessons n provide any means to support them. As their advisor, I allow the women to take charge 95% of the time.

Celebrating success

  1. A village women’s cooperative established run and managed by women
  2. Women trained in quality control
  3. Bottling done manually and labeling in the village
  4. Organized transport, markets and shipment locally and externally to New Zealand and Australia
  5. The continued income it provided to families
  6. The change of making money from copra to VCO making
  7. Village is exposed to business outsiders including government officials
  8. Overseas export

Future plans

  1. VCO product diversification
  2. Increase and strengthen management capacity
  3. Build a village based processing center (building)
  4. Up skilling on quality control
  5. Increase production capacity
  6. Increase market outlets
  7. Need for a 4x4 vehicle to assist women transport coconuts from farms to village and to transport orders to airport and wharf for shipment
  8. Need for professional boxes and labels

Achard and Local Sweet Chilly sauce are our new investment in 2021. We're aiming to grow these two products into a local spice company.


Photo supplied Malekula Oil/ Facebook