One of OceansWatch’s sustainability projects consists in teaching women a simple, almost fool proof method for producing high grade virgin coconut oil, which is then brought back to New Zealand on the organizations sailboats once a year. To produce the oil to the picky standards of a first world government in a very simple and utterly rural setting took a couple years of work to streamline.
We had the chance to assist at one of the workshops given to a group of women in Pala Village. The gist of the program is precisely that: to give women, who strangely enough are most always underserved when it comes to economic power, a chance to make a little bit of cash on their own. Here in the Solomon Islands land ownership for example is a purely masculine affair. At the government table of the timber right hearing we attended a couple weeks back there was one women sitting amongst a good dozen of men, and all she was allowed to do was say a short prayer at the end.
It all starts with a pile of coconuts, I our case a good one hundred seventy strong, peeled of their outer fibrous skin and now as the first business of the day cleaned down to bare wood with all kinds of scrapers, from kitchen knives to shards of broken beer bottles. It’s a community affair, so the going is loud and happy, the fond laughter that’s heard in any village here throughout the day accompanies the task to sweeten its boring routine.
Next comes the splitting station, where sharp bush knives are wielded with precision. The nut sits innocently in a bare hand. It has to be smacked laterally just the right way to make it spring open. Its refreshing water squirts out into a basin to be used for pig feed later on. The halves of the nuts are piled up in a container upside down, to prevent the ever present flies from setting their filthy feet onto the freshly exposed bright white meat.
Once the first container is full it wanders to the third and probably the most laborious station. Here the coconut halves are held with both hands and scrubbed against a metal grater attached to a small stool. The meat is ground up into a pile of thin strips and the now empty shells discarded.
About two thirds full the plastic tub must be before it continues its journey to the next station where a mixture of ambient temperature and boiling water is added to the gratings. Coconut oil changes its aggregate state from gel to liquid at around 28˚ Celsius. The idea therefore is to keep the temperature of the mix slightly above that but not too much, as the a much higher temperature would start to quickly degrade the quality of the final product. The slushy mixture is then worked with a pestle for a good fifteen minutes to extract as much oil as possible from the ground up fibers.
From there a strainer picks up the fibers out of the white liquid, which then are put into a press to squeeze out every bit of liquid and leave behind dry fiber, which also will be transformed into pig meat. This is usually the final stage of the first day of work. The liquid is now an emulsion of water and oil and will need to sit overnight to let gravity do its work of separating the two materials. The following morning the oil will be decanted and bottled according to its degree of purity. The containers then are stood out into the sunlight for a couple days to purify the oil and extract more and more of the water, which at that stage still causes some murkiness.
If you are interested in this process of providing underserved women with a means to create economic sustainability, visit OceansWatch’s website for more information and the possibility to contribute to this well intended and passionately executed program with your generous donation.