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Marshalls’ Coconut Replanting Offers Important Economic Spinoffs

Resource: Yap State News Brief (2012/10/31)

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety) — With the Marshall Islands set to launch a coconut tree replanting and removal scheme on remote outer islands, an outrigger canoe-building expert says the plan will provide a significant economic opportunity for people living on these far-flung islands.

Supported with $1.2 million from Japan’s Fund For Poverty Reduction and the Asian Development Bank, coconut replanting and removal of senile trees will commence on five remote atolls in the Marshall Islands in the coming months. It is part of a three-country pilot project in the Pacific responding to the global food price hike in an attempt to address social protection by providing food security and job creation, said Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Resources and Development Rebecca Lorennij earlier this week.

Alson Kelen, who directs the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) non-government organization in Majuro, wants to ensure local residents cash in on the spinoff of opportunity afforded by the cutting of old coconut trees.

“Coconut tree wood is considered ‘exotic,’” he said. “It’s valuable.”

Kelen’s organization, which trains young Marshallese men and women in carpentry and lifeskills so that they can build canoes and make a wide-range of handicrafts, will be working with the Ministry of Resources and Development on the value-added side of the project.

“It’s been my dream to do something with coconut logs,” said Kelen. “The canoe program will do training on replanting and how to use the coconut lumber from the senile trees that are cut down.”

But Kelen emphasizes that people should not be planning to clear cut large areas on the outer islands. “We don’t want to cut all senile trees at one time,” he said. “We should cut down only a few on each weto (land parcel) while replanting. We can make it sustainable this way, and provide income for outer islanders for the next few years. If we cut two-to-three trees in each weto, it will provide money for the people there for one year. Then we move to the next weto and do the same. We can return later to cut down several more in each weto.

“Try it out, start small, learn and improve,” he said. “This way we make it as sustainable as possible and it can produce income for people for many years.”

Kelen said coconut lumber is extremely valuable and, properly cut and prepared, can be used to make picture frames, earrings, canes, rings, necklaces, coconut graters, women’s combs and hair clips, chopsticks, and a variety of house fittings and furniture.

Kelen said that after speaking with outer islanders from some of the five targeted atolls who have been in Majuro for a national women’s conference this past week, several groups expressed enthusiasm for the project and have already visited the canoe program to see the equipment it uses for slicing coconut tree lumber into “slabs” that are usable for making handicrafts and other products.

“We can show people how to cut the trees and set up a system for doing it,” said Kelen. “There are so many talented handicraft makers on the outer islands that they can take the work from there.”

Resource: Yap State News Brief (2012/10/31)

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