Vineyard contractor making a difference

YEAR-ROUND WORK:  Workers at  Vinepower’s Tanna Farms coconut mill in Tanna, Vanuatu.
YEAR-ROUND WORK: Workers at Vinepower’s Tanna Farms coconut mill in Tanna, Vanuatu.

Vinepower co-director Jono Bushell has put his Marlborough life on hold to build a coffee plantation and coconut oil mill in Vanuatu so his seasonal workers can work year-round.

Bushell left for Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, in April with a plan to start a business on the small island of Tanna.

He returned to Marlborough last week and spoke at the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) conference in Wellington about his new business venture, Tanna Farms.

Bushell said the aim of the project was to have continued work for Vinepower's RSE workers when they went home to Vanuatu..

Bushell and Jason Kennard, co-director of Vinepower, employed about 170 RSE workers for this year's pruning.

"We wanted to really do something that entails the skills they were learning here and growing coffee does that. I wanted to give them work similar to grape-growing," Bushell said.

"We are employing some guys who have worked for us before and some who are working for us now. We have created an outlet for continuous work."

Bushell teamed up with Seth Kaurua, who helped recruit workers for the coffee farm and the mill.

The farm was their first project.

Last September Bushell headed to Tanna to plant the first coffee plant. The six hectare block of land, owned by Chief Mas, the Chief of Kastom Land, was now completely planted, he said.

Peanuts were also planted, Bushell said.

In April they spent two weeks building a coconut mill. Coconuts are brought from throughout the island and processed at the mill. After most of the oil has been extracted, the rest is used to make soap.

"We are slowly building on every part of the project. We will probably have to expand the mill quite soon," Bushell said.

His wife Claire and children, Jack, Joe and Milly, also moved to Vanuatu. The children attend Port Vila International School and Claire manages their Marlborough vineyards from Vanuatu.

"It's been a huge experience, especially with the kids, too. We would like to spend six months there [Vanuatu], six months here [Blenheim] but we are still undecided.

"It's been the most amazing experience."

Bushell has been asked to speak at the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) conference in Samoa in August.

The Marlborough Express