Handicraft producers from the remote islands of TORBA Province have witnessed the official handover of the Torba Handicraft Cooperative (THC) registration certificate — making it the first ever certified handicraft cooperative in the province.
During the official Handover Ceremony held at the Torba Provincial Headquarters on Wednesday 17th February, the Minister for Tourism, Trades, Commerce and ni-Vanuatu Business, James Bule, said the reviving of cooperatives was a key priority for his Ministry: “The strength of Vanuatu’s local economy lies with the revival of well-managed cooperatives. With the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s economy, the government is looking to the productive sector for Vanuatu’s economic sustainability. We are committed to supporting cooperative initiatives as a viable option for creating the networks needed for logistics, shipment and transportation of goods to the remote parts of Vanuatu.”
Established in 2018, the producer-owned cooperative is taking a sustainable and inclusive approach to its development and has 56 active registered members, including two people with disabilities. Since that time, THC has been facilitating market access for the handicraft producers across the province. The producers have made healthy profits, especially through sales in Port Vila, and their products are highly sought after. Speaking at the unveiling of the THC signage in his capacity as the THC Chairman, Torba Skills Centre Manager, Mr. Jimmy Kelvin, commended the commitment to partnership among provincial and national stakeholders: “In 2020 THC products were marketed at four national sales events in Port Vila, and we sincerely would like to thank the government and its partners for organising these events. As a result, last year, local registered handicraft producers collectively earned VT1,108,880 and the THC itself has made VT559,598 in profits. Improving people’s livelihoods through local production is the primary focus of the newly registered cooperative.” Mr Kelvin also acknowledged the contribution of Vanuatu’s former ambassador to New Zealand, the late Mr Johnson Naviti, who contributed enormously to marketing THC products abroad.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Director General Roy Mickey Joy, expressed his enthusiasm for supporting the productive sector in Torba Province. “The Ministry will look into recruiting a Provincial Industry Officer to boost the efforts currently being undertaken by partners in the province. Also, this year Vanuatu will be participating in the Expo 2020 in Dubai from the 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022 and we have been mandated by the national government to identify handicraft products for this. I am happy to announce that Torba Province handicraft products will be showcased at this event.”
THC has been financially supported by the Australian Government, through the Torba Skills Centre, under the Vanuatu Skills Partnership (TVET). Now registered as a cooperative organisation, THC is in a better position to strengthen its governance and ensure its economic sustainability with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Trades, Commerce and ni-Vanuatu Business through the Department of Industry and the Department of Cooperatives.
In his speech, Director of the Department of Cooperatives, Mr. Ridley Joseph, emphasised the need for newly registered cooperatives to ensure sustainability and accountability in their operations. “The department, through its provincial officer, will soon organise an accounting and management workshop for all managers of registered cooperatives in Torba this will be followed by a Xero accounting package training.”
THC producers include pandanus weavers, cane weavers and wood carvers. They are renowned for the supply of the famous wooden Nalot cutter used both as a kitchen utensil as well as an ideal souvenir product for domestic and international tourists. The cane weavers are known throughout Vanuatu for their stunning moon baskets and diamond-shaped fans. THC also has recently registered seed and shell jewelry producers.
A VT20,000 cash donation was made by the delegation led by state Minister to the newly certified handicraft cooperative.
With the focus on strengthening the local handicraft value chain by increasing market access, the impact of the THC is not just in inclusive economic benefits, but it is also serving as a protection and preservation mechanism of the traditional knowledge, culture and skills of Torba province.