Everything in Aakapa, on the island of Nuku Hiva, is steep: the hillsides, the shore line, all the roads and driveways.
The dried coconut industry, called copra, is important all across French Polynesia, and this village of 120 people is no exception. The municipality of Aakapa invested in a coconut drying oven in 2018 to make the industry more accessible to more people. The metal structure has several large drawers and a long firebox, and it can be rented by entrepreneurs who dry coconut meat and sell it for the processing of coconut oil.
Sarah Kiipuhia and her boyfriend Manoa Didelot have rented the oven today, so they stoke the fire with wood they have gathered themselves. They buy coconut from their local connections, then dry it and sell it to the export ship that will deliver it to Tahiti to be pressed into a commercial grade of oil used in manufacturing of products including soap and cosmetics.
The oven is more sturdy and reliable that some of the homemade versions elsewhere on the islands. It’s less likely to burn itself down, and it provides an entry point to the business.
Sarah is from this valley, so people know and trust her. When they bring coconut meat out from the bush, Sarah buys it from them, dries it, and sells it to the transport ship for a profit.
Manoa, who is also a taxi driver, helps monitor the product and the fire. This oven (which can also be used to smoke meat or fish), can dry coconut in as little as 6-8 hours. Sun drying takes at least three days, and the coconut is more likely to spoil.
The reservation system for sharing this oven is simple but effective. In a valley of 120 residents, everybody knows each other, so a clipboard is all they need. Anyone in the association can use the oven for a fee.