In Samoa, Oxfam's enterprising partner WIBDI has already turned coconuts into a viable income for more than 200 rural families with a break-through contract to supply virgin coconut oil to cosmetic giant The Body Shop.
The Body Shop uses WIBDI oil in 30 of its products including the popular Body Butter, Body Scrub, Shower Cream and Milk Body Lotion. All products containing coconut oil, including their number three globally selling item, now use WIBDI's oil.
This has had a dramatic effect on the opportunities for families in Samoa.
Reviving the rural economy
The rural economy of Samoa has fared less well in recent years in comparison to other Pacific economies. The move to produce organic virgin coconut oil was prompted by a decline in copra prices, the traditional major product of coconut.
By learning how to extract cold-compressed coconut oil and developing micro-business structures that Samoan farmers could implement easily, WIBDI has transformed many families' livelihoods. Coconuts are sourced from plantations of traditionally-owned lands, with acres of trees that have been under-utilised until now. The coconut flesh is extracted from the nut and dried and weighed before being placed into oil press machines, which use pressure to squeeze the valuable oil from the flesh. The oil is then prepared for shipment to the UK, where it is processed for use in The Body Shop range.
The increased, regular incomes are influencing whole extended families.
Take Faiumu Faimafili’s family (pictured right): they work together on their organic farm producing coconut oil for export to The Body Shop. The two older sons lived away from the family and worked to send cash back home for their daily needs. This would amount to less than 100 tala ($32 USD) a week, and was not regular.
With their coconut oil production they now earn up to 800 tala ($256 USD) a week. Using this money they have been able to secure a loan to rebuild their home and their two sons have returned home to help with the family business. They regularly sell organic produce at the monthly organic market, and even hire people from the village to help out with coconut oil production.
The income is vital to their families’ livelihoods and security. People now believe that agriculture is a legitimate way to earn money – they are now returning home to the villages, as families are able to earn a sustainable income and develop the land. This has reduced dependence on remittances from family working in urban Samoa and overseas. Women involved in the project are experiencing increased status in their villages with their new economic power.
Pacific countries like Samoa face the challenges of geographic isolation and small size. It’s tough for producers to meet and sustain demands for high volumes of produce, so first steps are being taken between WIBDI and Oxfam’s partner in Tonga, the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) to focus on wider Pacific cooperation.
WIBDI is unusual because it can easily source the markets it needs to sustain their business (The Body Shop), but it has difficulty keeping up with demand and ensuring consistent supply. There have been on-going talks between WIBDI, TNYC and The Body Shop about sourcing more products jointly. Collaboration between WIBDI and TNYC will ensure greater supply security for The Body Shop and regular business for both of Oxfam’s partners.
This is an exciting time for WIBDI’s relationship with The Body Shop, as The Body Shop has been bought out by French cosmetics giant L’Oreal. L’Oreal has already shown interest in using coconut oil in some of their hair products, which could see global demand soar.
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