Low copra prices prompts Karkar’s bio-fuel diesel

The plummeting world copra prices has forced copra plantation owners to look for other avenues to raise the value of their copra. The average price per metric tonne of copra is now just over US$700, down from US$1,500 last year, according to the latest figures from the Bloomberg financial news service. The commodity crop experienced a long and steady rise in value in the early 2000s, but prices have fluctuated since the start of the global financial crisis.

The last major price slump occurred in 2009, when the cost of a tonne of copra plummeted to US$400. Copra production in the South Pacific has now dropped, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province, a company operating on a small plantation on Karkar Island has trialled the concept of producing bio-diesel fuel from coconut oil and has succeeded in making its own fuel.

The company, PNG Biofuels, has invested in a pilot programme to use the humble coconut to produce environmentally-friendly bio-diesel fuel. Company director Brett Middleton said: “Copra prices last year dropped severely and there was really no income to be earned from it. In the last two years, we were looking for avenues to raise the value of our copra.” Middleton belongs to an agricultural family connected to the island for almost 100 years. They run Kulili Estates (coconut and cocoa plantations) on the island. His grandfather Max Middleton took over the plantations from the Germans in the mid-1920s. He spent most of his adult life there apart from the war years.

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