The blessings of coconut oil in Indonesia’s Papua

women working with coconuts
Women in Papua, Indonesia learn how to extracting cocounts' meaty inner lining rich in oil known as copra. Photo: UNDP Indonesia

A long stretch of black sandy beach on the fringe of Dabe village in Papua, Indonesia lies empty. It is a weekday, but nobody is out fishing in the nearby waters.

Instead, villagers were busy chopping coconuts by the hundreds and extracting the meaty, inner lining rich in oil known as copra. Others were using presses to shred cut coconut, later extracting the oil.

Wainin Namantar, a local fisherman, is among them. In past years, the men in Dabe fished from March to October while the women gathered and hunted for food in the surrounding forest. The men sold the fish, shrimp, and crabs they caught for IDR 30,000 (US$2.50) a kilogram.

Highlights

  • Villagers produce 400 liters of coconut oil per month, providing them with a monthly income of IDR 4.8 million (US$360).
  • Health certification for the finished, refined cooking oil has been acquired, and it is now sold in shops in Sarmi and Jayapura, Papua's capital.
  • 481 villagers are actively producing crude coconut oil and selling to the factory.
  • Two coconut oil factories were established, employing eighteen villagers.

About 3,300 hectares of Sarmi district is covered with coconut trees. Coconut is the most readily available commodity across Sarmi, but because it is so plentiful, it is often treated like garbage.

“We never did anything with the coconuts except eat them,” said Wainin.

In 2014, dozens of Dabe residents were taught how to produce crude coconut oil in a project funded by New Zealand Aid (NZAID) and jointly implemented by UNDP and the Ministry of Development Planning. The project is part of UNDP’s People-Centered Development Programme, which aims to harness existing local capacity and economic opportunities to improve livelihoods.

Villagers, ranging in age from their 20s to the late 50s, learned how to chop coconuts quickly and effectively, shred coconut using expeller presses, and separate the clear crude oil from the thicker part they themselves use for cooking.

Within a few short months of the training, Dabe villagers produced 400 liters per month, providing a monthly income of IDR 4.8 million (US$360).

Before the project began, many villagers did not earn stable monthly income and they did not have any economic activity.  The poverty level in Papua province stands at 27.8 percent, almost tripled than the national average.

“This is a huge change from what was happening in previous years,” said villager Zacharias Namantar.

Wainan and Zacharias are among the 481 people in Sarmi who have benefited from this project. The program’s focus is on the extraction of oil from coconuts, post-harvest training in the production of cooking oil and assistance with operating production factories.

Health certification has been acquired from the Food and Drug Agency, and the finished, refined cooking oil, called PHICO, is sold in shops in Sarmi and Jayapura, Papua's capital city.  

“We want to get serious about selling PHICO refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil for cooking purposes, and because of this, the regency of Sarmi collaborated with us to set up two factories,” said Ferdinand Leohansen Simatupang, part of UNDP’s People-Centered Development Programme. The two local factories employ eighteen villagers.

Sarmi Regent Mesak Manibor agreed that the best way forward for local economic development was the establishment of factories for coconut oil production. Eventually, they hope to have a marketing plan to sell the oil across Papua.

“We have so many coconut trees here. The coconuts fall on the ground and nobody does anything with them. It is a waste,” Mesak said. “It is best that they can be turned into refined cooking oil that can eventually be sold widely.” 

Before the training, ten coconuts produced one liter of oil priced at IDR 10,000 (US$.75). Today, once sold to the local refinery, it is priced at IDR 12,000 per liter (US$1).

After the initial group was trained, more villagers requested that the project and government include them as beneficiaries so that they could earn income. Training was given by factory's workers, so skills and knowledge have been successfully transferred to local people.

Dabe resident Sarlotta is thankful for this work. “Our parents focused on educating the boys. The girls in the family stopped going to school at age 15. We have worked ever since,” she said. “My family needs money...I can make about IDR 200,000 (US$15) a month. I can get detergent, salt, fuel, sugar, food and rice.”

The same goes for Dorce, who is able to send her two sons to school as a result of this work. “One son is now in junior high school, and another in senior high school. This is because of the IDR 400,000 (US$30) a month I make doing this work with coconuts. They can get an education and do not have to help the family out to make money.”

UNDP Around the world