The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2011 Finalist

Tsunami Triggers Virgin Coconut Oil

Tsunami Triggers Virgin Coconut Oil

From Disaster to Development

This project began as an effort to improve livelihoods for the tsunami-affected people of Car Nicobar. Until now, no serious effort has been made to address their livelihood issues after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004.

Copra (dried coconut kernels) has been a traditional export from the Nicobar Islands: coconut kernels are dried in the sun and then sent to the Andamans where they are milled for oil. This trade is controlled by politically powerful middlemen.

However, the women in this island group make virgin coconut oil for household use. This project focused on designing a press that would speed-up the process of producing virgin coconut oil for export and sale instead of copra, increasing the amount of oil extracted per coconut by the press, and de-centralising the production and marketing process, thus eliminating middlemen. Other considerations were an affordable price and a light weight to allow easy transport of the machine to remote locations. Yet others were a robust design allowing both ease of use and the ability to repair the machine on the spot. These goals have been met, and users of the press have more than doubled their income from what they used to get from copra.

The press also allows the production of other kinds of cold pressed oil. Extraction of walnut and lemon seed oil will be tried shortly at other sites in India.

The weakest links in this chain are the transportation of the oil to a point from which it can be easily marketed (i.e. Car Nicobar to Chennai, India) and a mechanism where the growers get paid up front for the product. This is the classic chicken and egg conundrum: users want to see the oil and test it before placing orders, whereas growers are reluctant to produce the oil unless swift payment is guaranteed. Because of the delays that occurred in implementing the project because of logistic constraints (it took 10 months to register a co-operative of tribal women which could operate a bank account and receive money), this point has not been entirely resolved. With the money from The St Andrews Prize for the Environment, the team want to create the ability to deliver.

More specifically, they will carry on the following activities with the prize money:

  1. Micro-finance for new machines. This would be a rolling fund administered by the tribal women, who would supply new machines, determine a payback period and use this money as a rolling fund.
  2. Working capital for bridging the gap between production and when the buyer pays. This would be designed to grow over time.
  3. Seed money to enable transportation of the oil between Car Nicobar and Chennai.
  4. Awareness generation through a video to enable starting-up similar ventures on other islands of the Andaman and Nicobar chain.
  5. Optimising the press using expertise from engineering colleges to improve performance.
  6. Seed money to establish the feasibility of using the residues to produce a diesel substitute.

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