The Family Business Built on Coconuts

The unpredictability of the future is part of life’s big thrills and this rings particularly true for Mr. and Mrs. Nawaitauvou, the entrepreneurial couple and owners of Nawaitauvou Virgin Coconut Oil Company.

The Nawaitauvou’s made a life for themselves on Navotua Village, one of seven villages of Nacula district in the breathtaking and hotel punctuated Yasawa archipelago, by stumbling upon the riches of coconuts.

Theirs is a tale of humble beginnings and a mixture of fortunate twists of events which ultimately unraveled to what is today an award winning recipe centered entirely on the ever swaying coconut trees of the Yasawa’s.

They upheld their wedding vows of for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer and strode out onto the murky journey that lay ahead of them as husband and wife.

The now 53-year-old Sesarina Nawaitauvou and her 55-year-old husband Mesake Nawaitauvou made life easier for each other after starting up their business but life had not always been smooth sailing for the couple.

Originally from Nabouwalu Village in Bua, Sesarina had little knowledge of what life in the Yasawas was like when she was whisked away to Navotua Village but in time, the couple welcomed ideas and opened their minds to development that would benefit their family.

“When my husband brought me to the island, I found out the life on the island although there were hotels creating employment, was hard,” said Sesarina.

“My love for my husband and the vows we said before God made me see a way around these hardships, which included water and transportation problems, and was also lacking in income generating factors,” she said.

“I looked around me for means that could support my efforts and I found the tall coconut trees swaying calmly to the Yasawa breeze the answer to my prayers,” said the effervescent Mrs. Nawaitauvou.

The same sentiments was shared and driven by an American Peace Corp volunteer fondly known as Connor in 2010 who committed himself to steering the couple ahead with the idea to make a buck from the countless coconuts on the island.

“During his term on the island with us, he noticed the lifestyle and hardships we face and he encouraged and challenged us to pursue the idea that we had about the coconut trees,” she said.

Shortly after, an offer came for the couple to attend training at the Centre for Appropriate Technology & Development (CATD) in Nadave on the aspects on Resource Based Livelihood Training Programme (RBLTP), Income Generating Income, after which the couple chose the establishment of a homestay on the island as a viable source of revenue for them, then.

While in Nadave, Sesarina also engaged herself in the Appropriate Technology Programme, a training module on Virgin Coconut Oil and its by-products and this was where she acquired the knowledge and skills to produce VCO and its by-products such as soap, body oil and body lotion. They were also introduced to the idea of planting yasi (sandalwood) as a long term goal.

In 2013, leading to their mission of the establishment of their own business, the couple were again sent to the Coconut Centre in Mua, Taveuni for a two-week broadening of knowledge course, again on Coconut and its by-products.

Equipped with knowledge on coconut and its by-products, the couple in 2015 applied for the Australian Business Volunteer program to which an Australian couple Rob and Ronnor who were specialists in running a business and manufacturing coconut by-products flew to their aid.

“The couple stayed with us for three months and we were blessed to have them teaching us what to do, how to start a business and what other things we could produce,” she said.

“We grasped everything we could from them and kept motivating ourselves that we could do it, no matter the circumstance at hand.

Hereafter, the couple made use of their available resources and the knowledge they had acquired to start their Nawaitauvou Virgin Coconut Oil business – producing kura and sandalwood soap, body oil, ginger-infusion with a little magic added to her ingredients, she made her own washing and dishwashing paste.

With the successful running of their business, the Ministry of Agriculture under the Cottage Program assisted the couple in their business with a Generator and a grinder in 2016.

Agriculture Technical Officer (Lautoka), Kalesi Domolailai said the Ministry recognized the Nawaitauvou’s persistence in managing their business despite the challenges posed by their location.

“They have in them the urge to move and expand to greater levels and with the assistance the Ministry gave them, we have seen a progress in their work, they have begun to produce their own products which are different from the usual by-products and this is really motivating,” she said.

“Running this business out on the maritime area, takes a lot of patience and perseverance and that is exactly what the couple have displayed with their market and transportation and there has been an increase in production with the assistance given by the Ministry.

The couple supplies to the Blue Lagoon Boutique and the Navotua Village Homestay with their soaps and oils being sold at $7 per bottle and bar while dishwashing paste is sold at $10 per paste raking in $280-$300 per month from the Blue Lagoon Boutique and $300 from the Homestay during the off-season with sales also depending on the occupancy rate.

Having gained exposure beyond the Yasawas, the couple took part in various expos on the mainland even displaying during the mini-Agriculture Show held in Nacula Village with the pinnacle of their

business being when they were awarded the 2017 Value Adding Farmer of the Year award during the Western Agriculture Show held in Nadi.

They also planted more than 120 coconut trees solely dedicated to their business and alongside it, other agricultural produce such as cucumber, beans, tomatoes, bele and moca.

“We found this agricultural practice useful to our family especially to our diet and it has changed the way we eat at home from the normal seafood, we now have a combination,” she said.

Building on from where they had been in past years, the couple have come through turbulent times to achieve their dream.

“Transport on the island is a problem and hiring is expensive and to combat the hardships we face, we are on our way to purchasing our own fiber glass to help ease the problem of transportation to hotels and to the urban centers,” Sesarina said.

“We have also started building our own homestay with the idea of circulating the money within and alot could be saved when we will have our own transport and supply to our own homestay,” she said with satisfaction.

So the Nawaitauvou’s are a testament that a business built on trust and faith, can go a long way and after the success of raising three grown children all the while having nothing to their name to becoming successful managers of a Virgin Coconut Oil business, the couple’s advice is that of perseverance, self-discipline, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect.

“Notice what the problem is, despite the environment, weigh out how you can combat it and with all your effort and determination, set your goals straight, without a doubt you will pull through,” said Mrs. Nawaitauvou.