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Regional News

Marshalls copra record cut short by dengue outbreak

MAJURO — The record-setting pace of copra production in the Marshall Islands for most of the current fiscal year has come to a halt with a dengue fever outbreak that has brought to a standstill most transport to remote outer islands.

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Bags of copra stacked for weighing at the Tobolar Copra Processing Authority milling plant in Majuro. The current fiscal year has been one of the best years on record for copra production, but a dengue virus outbreak has halted copra collection by government field trip vessels.  Marshall Islands Journal photo

A passenger travel ban instituted by the Ministry of Health and Human Services in August to halt spread of the dengue virus to islands with scant medical services also halted regular copra pick up by Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation vessels.

With the ban on Majuro-to-outer-islands travel in place since the end of August, it appears that the tonnage total for FY 2019 may not break the all-time record set in 1995 — despite a record-setting production pace since October 1 last year.

Evidence of this is the drop off in copra delivered to the Tobolar Copra Processing Authority milling factory in Majuro last month, which declined to 334.56 tons. This was the lowest monthly total in FY 2019, which ends September 30.

With the government maintaining the copra price at 50 cents a pound, outer islanders have been producing copra like never before. But getting it to market requires shipping. And the dengue problem has halted copra delivery to Tobolar in Majuro.

Tobolar Copra Processing Authority statistics show 6,936.81 tons were processed from October 1 last year through August 31. By any measure, this is one of the best years on record in a country that has seen only five years since the early 1950s with over 7,000 tons of copra. The record for a year was set in 1995 with 7,728 tons of copra.

Tobolar is expected to top the 7,000-ton mark by the end of September 30. But how much better it can do than the 6,936.81 tons collected through August 31 will now depend largely on Majuro copra deliveries and any copra tonnage that may have been onboard vessels already servicing the outer islands when the travel ban was established and which will be reflected in September tonnage totals.

The closest atoll to Majuro, Arno, is the overall leader with 1,417 tons, or 20 percent of the total processed by the copra plant.