The Export Industry Development Department of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) on Friday 31 July facilitated a consultation meeting between business operators from the coconut industry and representatives from the Policy Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit (PIMEU) within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The businesses are members of a Coconut Industry Working Group supported by the SICCI Export Development Department with funding from the Rural Development Program (RDP).

The Department works closely with the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program to develop interest-groups in export-commodities of coconut and cocoa, into representative and sustainable industry bodies.

SICCI Export Industry Development Officer (EIDO), Mr Ronnie Galopitu says the main objective behind hosting this consultation was for local business operators to have a fruitful relationship with PIMEU when it is monitoring Government priorities on the productive and resources sector.

Another reason was for the CIWG to get update on the Economic Stimulus Package and its intended outcomes and be informed of the direction Government is moving towards in regards to the coconut industry.

It is understood that the agricultural sector was allocated $70 million from the ESP.

“We acknowledge Government for the initiative taken to support the agricultural sector as this sector touches the lives of our rural people.

“That being said, our CIWG members have some early feedback on the implementation of the Stimulus Package and in this case, specifically as it impacts the coconut sector,” Mr Galopitu said.

“Government should give special consideration for buyers who are buying at the announced subsidized price who do not have MOU arrangements like the exporters.

“They are doing it out of their own pockets so it is good that there could be some consideration for them such as reimbursing at cost.”

“However, SICCI surveys conducted so far on the impact of COVID-19 are telling us that companies, businesses are feeling the effect of reduced demand for their goods and services and business partners being adversely impacted as well, so with limited cashflow, the ability to pay out of their own pockets is severely restricted,” Mr Galopitu added.

PIMEU National Consultant, Mr Brian Wate reiterated that $20 million allocated for the coconut sector will improve the value chain.

Mr Wate is confident that the funding support will go directly to producers, middle men, local buyers and other intermediate activities along the value chain up to exporters.

The PIMEU representatives also updated CIWG members that applications are decided upon and communicated from the Chairman of the Technical Committee and the Steering Committee.

PIMEU officials clarified that applicants that have submitted for rental support and for coconut milling support are expected to receive their funding support this week.

Screening is also happening for other focus areas with $6 million funding support to go towards rural farmers, $3 million for copra oil and $4 million for local coconut buyers.

“The first batch that have already received ESP funding are the exporters. However, some exporters have some outstanding issues with the Inland Revenue Division in relation to tax compliance and will have to sort that out before they can be progressed,” the PIMEU reps said.

PIMEU officials outlined their focus regarding the Economic Stimulus Package as well as their core work in monitoring and evaluating of ministries in productive sector to align with Government’s re-direction policy as announced by the Honorable Prime Minister earlier this year.

Members were also informed that the country’s Development Budget for 2021 for line ministries will likely be tailored similarly to the Economic Stimulus Package.

Other specific concerns canvassed in the meeting included the skewing effect that subsidizing one particular product will have on other products in the coconut sector.

“Copra subsidy was announced which is good, however, providing subsidy for only one particular product will potentially disrupt the coconut supply as farmers will go for this product, such as producing more copra than coconut oil for example,” SICCI EIDO Officer, Mr Galopitu, said.

He acknowledges that it is their (farmers’) choice but if it is just for the stimulus package and the higher price for copra, then it is not sustainable and not truly growing the economy.

“The issue is if Government is going to intervene, it has to make sure it does not disturb and create something unsustainable for the future,” Mr Galopitu cautions.

“We look forward to convening more of these frank discussions to ensure that private sector is able to give feedback on how policies being pursued by government are impacting on business and industry.”

Source: SICCI