Most of the coconut plantations on Malekula are covered by grasses and one can easily spot the young coconut seedlings (navara) on the ground.
That is the result of less copra production by farmers in most of the villages in the area of south to northeast Malekula, following the current price of copra that was fixed to a total of VT25,000 per ton with government subsidy.
From October to November last year, the copra buyers such as Vanuatu Copra and Cocoa Exporters (VCCE) purchased one tonne of copra without government subsidy to an amount of Vt15,000/Tonne.
In early December of 2018, the Council of Ministers approved the establishment of a copra subsidy of up to Vt150 million.
With that subsidy the VCCE added 10,000 copra subsidy to the normal price per tonne until today.
But for copra farmers the copra price per tonne is too low.
For Chairman of council of chiefs of Malwane in Alua, South East Malekula, Stephen Luan government must increase its subsidy.
“Our generating income is now very low, the government must consider us the people in increasing its subsidy.
“All of our hard work producing copra will be spent on public transport and we will be left with a small amount that can’t help to settle school fees and daily needs for our children,” he said.
People in the eastern part of Malekula have not much choice but to depend on this commodity to meet their needs.
For instance a reliable source within the VCCE company in Luganville, Santo, said today many copra farmers on Santo Rural turn to kava cultivation and they can rely on its income while the copra price is low at the moment.
This also applies to the West Coast, South West of Malekula where everyone’s concentration has shifted from copra to kava cultivation.
But in areas of Central to Northeast Malekula and other islands in the northern part of the country that face the same situation, it is difficult to shift from copra to kava cultivation due to unfavourable farming conditions.
The copra production from February till May has dropped significantly.
In December 2018, COM agreed to source the funding of the copra subsidy from the Infrastructure Development Fund as a temporary arrangement that will be reimbursed from the Copra Subsidy Budget once the 2019 Government Budget has been ratified by Parliament.