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Opening Remarks by Honourable Lopaoó Natanielu Muá Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries

SAMOA, September 1 - “Webinar on World Coconut Day”

THEME – Invest in Coconut to save the World: WEDNESDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER 2020 @ 3 PM (SAMOA TIME)

Excellencies, Executive Director and former Executive Directors of our International Coconut Community (ICC), fellow colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am delighted in my capacity as the current Chairman of ICC to join you, and give my Opening Remarks at our World Coconut Day webinar, with the theme, “Investing in Coconut to save the World.’’

Our collective mission continues to be the sustainable development of our ICC member countries, through the opportunity of our regions owning a significant proportion of coconut resources, that contributes to the enhancement of the livelihoods of our peoples in the rural areas, and coconut growers of smallholdings. The statistics speak for itself that a significant proportion of our coconut production are by these smallholding communities of growers.

We therefore note and understand that there is a significant number of communities that rely on our governments, and inter-governmental organisations such as our ICC, to lead discussions and collaborations in finding solutions and bridging the gaps that will connect and deliver on our respective national objectives, to enhance opportunities for our industries, partners and stakeholders, whilst specifically improving the livelihoods of our rural farmers and households.

It is also not lost on us that our coconut communities also satisfy environmental objectives in our efforts to mitigate climate change through our replanting efforts, and whilst it is a common goal it is also one of a global concern that aims at the reduction of global warming.    

It is in this vein that we continue to support the collaboration of our coconut growing countries through the ICC Secretariat, which brings us to focus on the most important strategies that are realistic in implementation by us, to sustain good livelihoods, industries, pristine environments and cultural heritage, as is mostly emphasized through the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Actions Pathway (or S.A.M.O.A. Pathway), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda 2030, as most of you are aware.

We often refer to the coconut tree as the ‘Tree of Life’. Other trees have often been referred the same, but none as more useful than the coconut tree.  I need not expand on the many known uses of the coconut, which we have become accustomed and have discovered through time, with the assistance of research and technological development, at increasing quality production for all variety of uses and market demands.

As we all know, the global demand for coconut products such as coconut water, sugar, cream, coconut oil, VCO, and activated carbon, is increasing rapidly. However, a high proportion of our coconut trees are old and senile, and compounded by the threat of pests and diseases, especially the coconut Rhinoceros beetle, and poor agronomic practices, have all led to the insufficient availability of raw materials to industries.  We should therefore not be complacent in achieving new means of technology for production, new variety and quality of coconuts that are pest and disease immune, to achieve our combined desires, to realize the theme of this year’s World Coconut Day, “Investing in Coconut to save the World.’’

I therefore encourage us all to scale up our national efforts via structured replanting programs to replace the old and unproductive coconut trees by the best selection varieties, promote integrated management of pests and diseases, apply good agronomic practices, and maximize economic benefits from existing and emerging markets through downstream processing of good quality products.  In short, we urgently need to invest in innovative technologies that will increase our coconut production.  And it is not an easy task.  Time is of the essence as we also note that ‘progress is a process.’, and it can be a long process.  But let us not give up!

I also encourage our ICC member countries to be strongly united, to combat issues that discredit our coconut resources and industries, such as the misconception on coconut oil promoted by the American Heart Association and others.  The claim by Dr. Karin Michels, Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, that coconut oil is a “poison”, and the recent publication by Eric Meijaard and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, titled “Negative Impact on Biodiversity is Greater than that of Palm Oil Production”, are not helping us at all, and so we should aggressively promote the positive attributes of coconut, its products, and by-products, through wider media coverage possible.

Further and more importantly, we are in unprecedented times during this COVID-19 pandemic which has created a “new normal” in our lives, and has become the greatest threat to global public health, economic growth, and our coconut sector.    We therefore need to develop a much better preparedness and response plan, and create the space to stay productive during this COVID-19 pandemic.  I have been told that our ICC Secretariat is going to hold a series of online trainings and webinars, to explore areas to learn new skills and innovation, to address challenges and opportunities in this COVID-19 environment.  Such areas include the promotion of coconut oil, VCO and coconut-based products as immune booster against COVID-19 infection. Our ICC Secretariat is also collaborating with universities on clinical trials of VCO against COVID-19 infection.

We should also strengthen and expand engagement in global partnerships and multi-sectoral collaborations for research and development, sharing and utilization of information, capacity building, and technology transfer, to enhance the sustainable development of our coconut industry.  Our ICC Secretariat has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Non-Aligned Movement Centre for South-South Technical Cooperation, to hold on-line training with the theme, “stay healthy and productive during COVID-19”, and a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in research and development, capacity building, and technology transfer via seminars and webinars.

I also encourage continued collaboration with local and international institutions, to do clinical trials on VCO and other coconut-based products, against COVID-19 and other diseases, to scientifically prove the excellent attribute of our coconut products.

In closing, the theme of this year’s World Coconut Day is “Invest in Coconut to Save the World”, and this theme obviously demonstrates and reaffirms the positive role of coconut and its products, in our economic, health, social, cultural, and environmental sectors. 

I wish you productive deliberations during your webinar, and I and my fellow ministerial colleagues of our ICC look forward to reading the outcome report from your deliberations.

Thank you for your attention and God bless us all!

September 1, 2020