KOSRAE PINS HOPES ON BOTTLED WATER EXPORT

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First shipment of "Lelu" brand bound for Guam

By Bill Jaynes

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Kaselehlie Press, March 26, 2008) - Nearly three years ago, Kosraen entrepreneurs including Senator Claude Phillip and former Governor Rensley Sigrah received a US$3 million loan from the FSM Development Bank to develop a water bottling company on the island.

For nearly all of those three years they developed the plant in a backwoods area near Tofol, the capital of Kosrae.

After three years of effort, the plant is finally ready to ship its first product. Senator Phillip said that the company’s first 40-foot container of bottled water is going to Guam. Some of that product will be for promotional purposes and the rest has been purchased by vendors in the area.

The water comes from Lelu springs near the plant and is attractively packaged in plastic bottles proudly bearing the Lelu name. When the bottles are placed on shelves in grocery stores adjacent to other bottled waters, Lelu Water bottles should attract some attention because of their artfully designed hexagonal bottles. Perhaps bottled water consumers will be moved to switch their brand out of curiosity if for no other reason.

Kosrae, like the other FSM states, has very few exports and the State relies heavily on importation to supply many of the needs of the island. Consequently very little "new cash" hits the island other than in the form of money that comes from the U.S. Compact of Free Association.

Some new cash comes from a growing tourist base, which is growing because of recent good press on Kosrae’s tourist activities and because of the successful efforts of the Kosrae Visitor’s Bureau.

Private sector development for exportation brings with it the possibility of cash from outside markets rather than the outflow of cash to other nations that occurs when items are imported.

It’s a big gamble and many fingers are crossed that it will pay off for the people of the State. The FSM most definitely needs private sector development especially in terms of export businesses.

Wanting to know more about the company, I checked the website (www.leluwater.com) that is listed on the beautiful label. I found out that the site has no information other than that it has been "under construction" since September 28, 2006. That seems a bit odd for a company shipping its first product during the week of the 17th of March, 2008. Perhaps website development is a next step.

Senator Phillip said that the company hopes to market the product on the West Coast of the United States. In anticipation of that the bottle has, preprinted on its label, the California redemption value stamp required by that State. It even has its own barcode. Anyone that has dealt with setting up a new product in the US knows that is no small accomplishment.

There is, or at least should be some concern that the timing for a new bottled water company might not be ideal. Beginning in the summer of 2007, US cities began to propose bans or heavy taxation on bottled water in their jurisdictions. Santa Barbara, California; New York City, New York; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Salt Lake City, Utah; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco, California; all proposed bans of bottled water or additional taxes that would apply at the check out stand. Other cities seem poised to do the same.

The mayor of Seattle, Washington signed an executive order as recently as March 19, 2008 banning bottled water purchases for city agencies. The city government alone had been spending approximately $58,000 for bottled water per year for their own functions. A city press release said that the government hoped to set a good example for the people of the city. The mayor said that Seattle’s public water was as good as or better than any bottled water and that drinking water from the tap didn’t carry the huge environmental impact of bottling water.

What about that? The FSM is certainly familiar with the problem of plastic in the landfills, in the mangroves, the ocean and on the roadsides; plastic that must have come from imported products since the FSM does not currently have a way of producing plastic. The billions of citizens and other occupants living in US cities have the same problem—plastic everywhere.

Maybe they are not nearly as keenly aware of the problem of global warming as those people who live on atolls and whose agrarian based support systems have been decimated by rising sea levels. Those people in the US who have never received mass shipments of food to replace what was lost to the sea as some residents of atolls in Chuuk have recently done do not know from first hand knowledge what the crisis is really all about. Apparently many citizens of the US are not waiting for first hand experience. Some are very concerned about the use of the petroleum products used to create plastics and not because it diverts fuel away from the vehicles they use to get around their smog choked cities. It’s those millions of concerned people who are calling for a reduction in the production of plastics even if that means the loss of their cherished bottled water.

People of Kosrae, I’m nearly certain, hope that the Lelu Water venture is even half as successful as that of Fiji Water, a wildly successful major export from Fiji. I personally wish that there was another way to bottle the product that would not harm the environment especially those of our neighbors in the FSM.

I suppose it all comes down to a balance thing as world leaders have been saying all along and particularly leaders of the US who still have not signed the soon to expire Kyoto Protocol.

We must keep the economy flowing. Yes, we must. Our lives depend on it. We also must work to make our environment healthy; at what economic cost? And what is the right way to deal with the problem of global warming? Experts have been hashing out that question for decades. Do you remember not long ago when scientists were concerned about global cooling and considered sprinkling carbon black on the polar ice caps so that the dark carbon would absorb the sun’s rays more effectively which would in turn help to melt the ice caps which were advancing at that time?

Everything changes and it’s all too complex even for the most advanced Cray super computer. I go into mental meltdown when I consider the complexity of it all.

Best Wishes!

We wish the owners of Lelu Water all of the best as they move forward in their endeavor. I wish the people of Kosrae many happy returns as cash flows out of the plant like water if you’ll pardon the pun. I wish the people of Kosrae jobs and a stimulated economy because of this endeavor and I hope that it will lead to other successful ventures as well.

Drink up and prosper (I hope)!

The Kaselehlie Press

© 2007 The Kaselehlie Press

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