|Some of the produce available in the Port Vila market.|
It shows some of the amazing variety in the local gardens
During our extended stay in Port Sandwich due to bad weather, we learnt a lot more about the production of copra. It seems like copra is a staple in the cash economy of the islands. Not easy cash, but always there to provide income if you’re prepared to put in the hours. In places where money can be made more easily from tourists, the labour to produce copra in return for about 30 000 vatu (about $350) a tonne is often deemed not worth while.
|This coconut plantation had a perfect funnelling effect.|
The coconuts rolled downhill towards the house to save time gathering!
First you have to collect the coconuts from beneath the tress laden with them. On a short walk through one plantation three coconuts dropped off near me in a matter of 10 minutes, so collecting has its hazards. One family-owned plantation had the perfect topography for funneling the coconuts downhill towards the house, which means less work! Once collected the coconuts are then split in half by a knife or axe and the hard meat removed. In Tahiti it was dry enough for the meat to be sun dried, but here in
it needs to be smoked for up to seven days, when it loses about half its volume
and finally it is put into large hesh sacks that are weighed and bought by
agents in the village. When enough is
collected, a ship is then called. In a
few places they have a wharf, but mostly it is loaded by a landing barge pushed
up on a beach or taken by lighter to the coastal cargo vessels. Estimates by those we asked: it takes about 50 coconuts to fill a sack and
10-15 sacks for a tonne. A large
majority of the copra goes to Post Vila to be made into biofuel which is then used
for generating electricity in an effort to be less reliant on imported
fuel. The remainder goes to a plant in
Santo (Luganville) to be refined for cosmetic uses. Vanuatu
With the increased use of cell phones the demand for cash is on the increase. Other wise if you ask most people what they do the reply is, “I go to my garden.” Every family here has a garden plot (or several) and a great variety of fruit and vegetables are grown. The gardens are usually a good walk from the village or across a body of water to segregate from the cows and pigs that wander freely and would love to raid a garden. From a young age the ni-Van people carry large knives so that they are able to tend their gardens or drink from a coconut at will (no carrying water bottles). Not once did we see any one coming or going from their garden with more than a knife in their hands and their bundles of produce on return. Food is often sent on the coastal boats to family in Port Vila who do not have a garden and an easy, cheep supply of good food. We believe that the soil in Port Sandwich must be very fertile as we were constantly offered a range of fruit and vegetables. We did our best to always offer something in return but it wasn’t expected.
|A loaded copra boat in Port Sandwich|