Tina Manab is so eager to show us how she makes her special brand of virgin coconut oil that I keep having to ask her to slow down so we can take it all in. "Don't worry," she says, "it's in here." She hands over a worn manila folder with printed details of her business plans. Tina is a woman on a mission. Her village of Boroi, on Papua New Guinea's northern coast, is impeccably well-maintained, World Vision's yardstick of success. Several days drive from Madang by bus, several hours in private transport, on rough often impassable, frequently flooded dirt roads, it's not all that far from the border of Indonesia. Overhead a flying fox leaps between trees while next to the river a caged crocodile is kept as a pet, or perhaps it's lunch? There is no shortage of coconut trees in this part of the country, planted many years ago by early German Missionaries. Tall mature trunks rise through the undergrowth everywhere. Traditionally coconuts here are harvested to create copra, a product derived from the dried kernel, a precursor to coconut oil. It's a labour-intensive process and Tina, frustrated by the small return for hours of back-breaking work, thought there must be something else she could do. So she travelled several long days by road to the town of Madang, to use something new to her called the internet. Online she found a Fiji-Indian man who taught her the steps involved in making virgin coconut oil. It was a life-changing moment. "I was so excited, I couldn't sleep at night, I was lying awake thinking about it all the time!" She brought her new-found skills back to her village and mastered the technique. She excitedly takes us around each stage. "First we leave the fallen coconuts for 5-7 days. Then we crack open and scrape the coconut out. Everything must be clean ... we squeeze out the coconut until it goes like cream. Not too hard, not too fast, so it is easy to squeeze out good milk. This is put through sieves, into clean containers and fermented for 24 hours, we leave it out in the sun to clean it up." It takes 15 coconuts to make approximately 500ml of virgin coconut oil which sells for 10 kina ($4.50). The finished product can be finessed into a myriad of uses including cooking oil, massage oil, baby oil, hair oil, even oil infused in different types of essence. Tina's operation - and ability to survive from a means other than subsistence farming and fishing - is a rare anomaly. Agriculture is the vital source of food for around 80 per cent of the population. But when you rely on the land for survival communities are incredibly vulnerable to any shock like a drought or tropical cyclone. Nearly two million people were without sufficient food after a drought caused by the 2015/2016 El Nino weather pattern. In the Bogia district, home to Boroi, World Vision partners with farmers and their families to produce more food and income, and helps farmers add value to their products. This project will be implemented across 20 communities in the district. • Read more: Hidden Pacific: Q&A • Why we're tackling poverty • Colour the difference for villagers caught in nutrition trap • Communities at the heart of youngsters' education Joseph Madari and Adam Pura have both benefited from the scheme. Both live in the hills of Bogia. Both farmed cocoa and were badly hit by the devastating cocoa pod borer infestation that destroyed large amounts of the region's crop in 2007. Cocoa is a lifeline for thousands of small farmers in PNG, providing vital income for some 20 per cent of the country's population. Suddenly Joseph's family had no income, and there was nothing to eat. He started growing cassava to harvest its starchy white root and with the support of World Vision learned skills to turn it into a valuable product. He has become a successful chicken feed producer, the only one in his area, and can't keep up with demand. And with a regular and reliable source of homegrown feed he has started breeding chickens and selling them to his community. From the flour he hand mills from the cassava root, he has also started making bread, cake and buns. He is making money now, and his family is secure. Adam's cocoa crop suffered the same fate as Joseph's. He had to cut down all his trees and start again. Suddenly he could no longer provide for his three children. Chicken and fish were cut from their diet, and they lacked access to vital protein for their development. "I struggled to make their school fees," he says. With the support of World Vision, Adam now has a new disease-resistant cocoa breed. He has been taught how to graft the new disease-resistant shoots onto the established roots to provide a rapid harvest. And now he is passing this knowledge onto other local farmers. Last year was the first since the borer infestation that Adam was able to harvest a crop for market and start selling cocoa again. He now employs seven subcontractors. "I am excited to finally be harvesting again. I believe this is going to make a big difference in my life." This year his daughter started university, studying education. Back in Boroi, Tina's virgin coconut oil business might be an anomaly, but it's catching on. She needed a business partner and access to more virgin coconut oil providers. So she approached World Vision who were looking for people who knew about the substance and started training people in the region. Now she has trained 90 other families in seven locations, who all now produce it successfully. She is selling her product to hotels and private clinics. By adding value to a basic product she is creating a new revenue stream that never existed before. But as with any business going through a period of fast growth, she is grappling with ways of expanding her markets. Her ultimate goal is to get a bottling plant, so she can produce the barcodes she requires to export her product offshore. With the energy and pride demonstrated in showing off her operation, I've got little doubt that Tina will somehow find a way to get this done.
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