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Best Practices: Borneo Ecotours and Bonco Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO)
A Community Project in Sabah, North of Borneo
Kudat sits on the northern tip of Borneo. It is a very beautiful place
– with white sandy beaches and miles of coconut trees that line
the coast and stretch inland. Unfortunately, the local communities do not see these assets as opportunities to improve their livelihood. The main ethnic community, the Rungus people of Kudat, have not seized the opportunities that lie within their own backyards. Instead, their youths migrate to the cities in search of jobs, while those who stay continuously shift their crops, constantly moving between coconut, rubber, cocoa and palm oil in search of better returns.
With the rising popularity of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) in the world today, the vast potential of this untapped resource is ripe for the taking, especially with the large areas of fruiting coconut plantations left abandoned.
This opportunity led Borneo Eco Tours to adopt the Kimihang Virgin Coconut Oil project as a community project by our in-house NGO Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) Society in May 2010. By supporting community projects through funding and the expertise of our BEST Society staff, Borneo Eco Tours aims to give back to the local community through social entrepreneurship and raise local community members to become independent entrepreneurs.
With funds from the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program (GEF-SGP), the project was successfully established as part of the greater Kimihang Environmental Conservation and Community Capacity Building project, which incorporates seven other programs in the village called Kimihang. With funds from the Malaysian government, a VCO lab was built and the local entrepreneur Mr. Ronnie Onginjan was appointed as the main coordinator of the project.
Over two years, the technical support from BEST Society helped the Kimihang VCO production to grow tremendously. With rising demand, the packaging developed from simple plastic water bottles to glass bottles with a 400ml capacity and proper labels that were designed, printed, bar-coded and lab tested specifically for the Kimihang VCO project. Furthermore, bilingual brochures containing information on VCO were designed to enhance the marketability of the VCO production further. A major rebranding exercise was carried out with the product now becoming known as BONCO – Borneo Natural Coconut Oil.
Inspired by his success, Ronnie Onginjan took the initiative and diversified his product line by adding two types of massage oils made from VCO. The citronella and ginger flavored aromatherapy oils come in little plastic bottles that match the design of BONCO Virgin Coconut Oil glass bottles, including the brand name BONCO on their labels.
But on the road to success we are also facing challenges. In 2010 and 2011, BEST Society conducted workshops such as soap making to further develop the downstream usage of VCO and diversify the opportunities to more members of the community. Unfortunately, they did not pick up on the idea to make a living of VCO production soap making did not become an inspiration just yet. But we keep encouraging the locals who are willing to take action, and we are confident that those who seek for change will be able to learn and benefit from our initiatives, just like Mr. Ronnie Onginjan.
A total of RM 28,663.20 and various shares of expertise and support have been spent on the VCO projects until today. This is only possible because of contributions made by individuals and our tour operations. Borneo Eco Tours contributed RM 8.00 and Sukau Rainforest Lodge, RM 4.00 for every international guest staying at Sukau Rainforest Lodge and another RM 20.00 from every purchase of Kinabatangan tour packages are set aside for BEST Society projects. Borneo Eco Tours has since contributed a total of RM 403,515.00 (35%) and Sukau Rainforest Lodge RM 236,977.08 (21%) out of a total fund raised of RM 1,157,451.22 by December 2013.
We continue to invite our tour guests to visit the Kimihang VCO production site and to hear the stories of the local entrepreneurs who proudly share the way VCO has changed their lives. Our guests can hereby share in the opportunity to learn about our community projects and get a first-hand impression about how their tour makes a difference to the local communities of Sabah.