Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Taste of Tonga

The Taste of Tonga coconut factory
We had a really fascinating visit to a little business called Taste of Tonga. The owners, Ian and Vanessa, had left New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake with a dream to settle into a tropical paradise. Arriving in Vava'u, they quickly decided that they didn't want to do the 'normal' ex-pat things like setting up a restaurant or doing whale-watching and instead wanted to find something that would operate all year round and would utilise natural resources here.

They quickly realised that coconuts are the most abundant natural foodstuff on the island; it's estimated that 15 million fall from the trees each year but only about 1 million are gathered (mostly to feed pigs). So they set up a little manufacturing operation to cold-press coconut oil, which is much valued in the health-food and natural cosmetics sector in Japan and Australasia. 

As they began to work with the locals to get supplies of coconuts, they also stumbled upon several abandoned vanilla plantations. The world vanilla price crashed a few years ago and Tonga, once a reasonably-sized producer, gave up on the labour-intensive crop; the price has now improved but the skills to grow and harvest the crop had all but been lost. Ian contacted an Australian business called Queen Vanilla and persuaded them to invest in Vava'u as part of their corporate social responsibility programme.

With Queen's backing, some EU and New Zealand aid and, most importantly, Ian and Vanessa's huge enthusiasm and drive, the results have been amazing. 300 growers have joined the Vava'u Vanilla Growers' Association, supplying Taste of Tonga who take the ripe beans and take them through the 3-month drying and conditioning process before shipping them to Queen. Last year was the first crop, just 2 tonnes of dried beans, but the quality was amongst the best Queen had ever seen; this year they hope to ship 8 tonnes. Ian is determined to share the benefits of this success with his growers so is running training courses, producing instruction manuals in Tongan and is setting up a 'tool library' so that the growers can borrow chainsaws, wheel-barrows and spades to improve their plantations. This year they'll be certified Organic so this will increase the value of their beans.

White men can't husk coconuts!

Ian with his vanilla beans

The beans drying in the sun

Interested visitors
Ian is a visionary bloke and is aiming  to make Taste of Tonga completely waste-free. The coconut husks from his processing plant already go to the vanilla growers as mulch for their plants, the other coconut waste feeds his 70 pigs and he's currently planning to buy a small gasification plant which will burn the remaining shells and husks to generate electricity to make the factory self-sufficient for energy. He has all sorts of other schemes on the whiteboard in his office - even one to recycle the offal when he slaughters his pigs to feed land crabs in pens in the nearby mangrove swamps; he'll sell the crabs to local restaurants on the understanding that they'll return the shells to him so he can grind them into the feed meal for his hens and ducks as a valuable calcium source!

If ever a business deserves to succeed it's this one. We'd love to be able to come back in a couple of years to see how it has progressed. You can read more about it here 

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