22 March, 2019

With a little help from our friends: Replanting coconut palms on Savai’i

A Samoan coconut farmer and VSA volunteer
by Astra Rushton-Allan

For many of us, the idea of living on an island laden with palm trees is something of a dream.

In 2017, this dream became a reality for Damian Buckley, when he was posted on a Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA) assignment with Fairtrade cooperative Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association (SCFA), in Samoa. 

Damian’s primary role was to assist the association to promote the sustainability of coconut farming through replanting initiatives, as well as increase SCFA’s capacity to act as an independent business. 

Ultimately, his mission was to help keep alive the reality of the bountiful coconut palm on the island of Savai’i. 

Time for a change

A significant hurdle faced by coconut farmers is the productivity of their coconut trees. 

On Savai’i, low yields are primarily due to declining soil fertility and the age of the palms, with some trees estimated to be over fifty years old. 

Seupule Malo, Treasurer for SCFA, details how vital new trees are: "Replanting is very important as coconuts are our livelihood and this is how we live. If we don’t replant, then how are we going to live?"

It is evident that SCFA’s management team understands that replanting is important to the longevity of coconut farming. 

Unfortunately, a general lack of knowledge about best-practice planting methods and a lack of access to the proper equipment to effectively carry out such activities had slowed the process of sowing new seeds.

Sometimes a little bit of guidance can be all an organisation like SCFA needs to take it to the next level. 

With assistance from Damian, the group’s management team were able to design a replanting project which aimed to have each member plant at least 50 new coconut trees.

Smiling Samoan coconut farmer Faaiu Tolopai holds a machete

Fairtrade Premium investment pays off

This ambitious work was given a further boost thanks to SCFA’s decision to invest their Fairtrade Premium into the purchase of new toolkits, which included machetes, files and spades. 

These kits were distributed to all association members and were the extra help many of the farmers needed to enable them to get properly stuck into the replanting initiative.

Now all SCFA’s members have been able to plant their 50 new trees, with some even surpassing that benchmark. 

One member, Faaiu Tolopai (pictured above), was so encouraged by the initiative that he decided to plant an additional 15 coconut palms. 

While it will take another five to six years before the trees reach maturity and start to fruit, this little bit of planning will soon provide additional income for all SCFA farmers.

Looking ahead

This effort was not just for the farmers of today but also for the farmers of tomorrow. 

Siaki Ualesi, a lifelong coconut farmer and member of SCFA (pictured below), planted new trees for his children: “By replanting my trees there is a future for my children. They have security through the farm and can determine their own future.”

Siaki Ualesi holds a Samoan Fairtrade coconut product 

In this sense, the replanting initiative represents more than just the future of coconut production, but also the sustainability of Fairtrade farming as a way to ensure livelihood security for the next generation of coconut farmers. 

Damian has since returned to New Zealand but continues to support the organisation through an e-volunteering assignment facilitated by Volunteer Services Abroad. 

And for those of us who are unable to make it to the sandy shores of Savai’i, Samoa’s only Fairtrade certified coconuts can be found on international market shelves as coconut cream, offering consumers a taste of tropical bliss. 

In 2012, Fairtrade ANZ began working alongside Volunteer Services Abroad to strengthen the delivery of its programs in the Pacific. The relationship between the two organisations is founded on the shared values of people-centered development, reciprocal learning and projects grounded in local needs. 

The partnership also reflects the aim of coordinating development efforts and drawing on the complementary strengths of like-minded organisations to achieve the best possible outcomes for Pacific communities.

If you enjoyed reading about the great work of SCFA, share this story on social media or leave a comment below.

And if you have a question about SCFA, VSA or Fairtrade, please get in touch.

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