Hyogo woman’s quest for fair-trade coconut oil helps remote Indonesia island

Kyodo

A proposal by a Japanese woman to introduce a fair-trade policy for exporting coconut oil from a small Indonesian island has changed the lives of people there, prompting them to abandon blast fishing that destroys the surrounding ecosystem.

Ai Fujiwara, 30, was amazed by the quality of the coconut oil made on Kapoposang Island when she visited Sulawesi Island as an interpreter in summer 2014, as the oil made her dry skin smooth.

She also learned that Kapoposang, a small island six hours west of Sulawesi by boat, had virtually no source of income other than marine produce caught using blast fishing.

The practice involves detonating explosives in the water to stun or kill schools of fish, but it often destroys the habitat that supports the fish, such as coral reefs. The islanders were also using an environmentally damaging stunning agent.

Fujiwara, who runs an import shop in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, soon traveled to the palm-covered Kapoposang Island with an offer.

“I’ll buy 100 kg of coconut oil every month,” she proposed to the islanders, who told her that if they could earn a guaranteed income they would no longer needed to carry out their ecologically unfriendly fishing practices.

Fujiwara started importing the oil in December 2014 for sale at her shop Love’s Gallery in Hyogo, paying the price requested by the islanders.

Around six months later, she heard that the islanders had stopped using explosives or the stunning agent to fish. The steady income from coconut oil exports to her shop prompted the islanders to buy new fishing equipment and also encouraged them to start cultivating lobsters.

The change led Indonesian officials, including a minister, to visit and observe the new lives of the islanders, who have also started teaching people on neighboring islands how to make coconut oil.

“I believe society can change if consumers give some thought to producers and vice versa,” Fujiwara said.

“I’m hoping that one day a fair relationship (between consumers and producers) will become a way of life and the term ‘fair trade’ itself will disappear.”

The coconut oil she imports is available online at www.lovesgallery.wixsite.com/coconutoil.