In an idyllic location south-west of Gizo in Western Province, two brothers Tamisia and Noah, are following the traditional process of making a very sticky, thick and caramelised product - coconut sap syrup, known as Kamaimai.
Tamisia (who goes by ‘Tam’) previously worked in Honiara and decided to return to his village in Western Province where he established the business producing this traditional product, which is well-known within Kiribati communities in the Solomon Islands.
The brothers were also keen to support their community, through the establishment of the Titiana Toddy Farmers Association, which supplies the coconut sap that the Kamaimai syrup is made from. Their board meetings are held under the shade of a palm tree, overlooking the local surf break, but despite the relaxed setting the discussion is all business. Chairman of the Association and one of Kamaimai’s toddy sellers, Sibwere Karotu, is passionate about encouraging the next generation of Toddy Farmers and educating them on the versatility of the ‘tree of life’ (coconut palm tree). Sibwere says re-planting the coconut palm is not just about livelihoods, its environmental value is significant, as the structure of the tree roots prevents sea erosion.
The brothers behind the Kamaimai bottle are an all-in-one team. They design their own label, produce and package Kamaimai from their family home, meet with suppliers and market new versions of the Kamaimai product on social media, aspiring to build the Kamaimai brand. Kamaimai is not a unique, patented product but what makes it special is that it is the only commercialised coconut sap syrup from Solomon Islands.
To fine-tune their business model, Strongim Bisnis an Australian Government initiative, sourced a business mentor to look at new ways to increase domestic sales and raise greater awareness of the benefits of Kamaimai. There is much marketing appeal with the Kamaimai brand - not only is it a Solomon Islands locally-owned product, but the health benefits are wide-ranging. Kamaimai is rich in nutrients and packed full of vitamins, which makes it a healthy sugar alternative.
Through the business mentoring support, Kamaimai has secured its first big order with Bulk Shop and has piloted product launches in Honiara, tempting expat buyers in the Christmas season.
For micro and small businesses like Kamaimai, there are several market challenges. The domestic market for consumption is extremely thin, due to a small population (just over 600,000). Many local products also have to import expensive packaging items in order to sell their produce. Telecomunications is expensive and inconsistent, despite upgrades to the mobile network in Western Province. And there are high, unavoidable operational costs, such as freight, due to Solomon's unique but geographically isolating regions. It may seem like the challenges are insurmountable, but for the Kamaimai brothers there is a genuine interest in commercialising the traditional process of coconut sap syrup.
For Tam and Noah, there is much to consider to take their business to the next level, but with some business savvy, determination and a dash of beginner’s luck, it could just be Kamaimai’s recipe for success.