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PORT LOUIS (AFP) - Struggling with rising oil prices, Pacific island nations are increasingly looking to coconut oil, long a basic foodstuff and massage lubricant, as an economically and ecologically sound petroleum alternative.
Pacific island officials gathered here last week for a UN conference on small islands extolled the virtues of the lowly coconut in reducing dependence on imported gasoline and potentially boosting ailing local economies.
Coconut oil is seen as an inexpensive and efficient renewable energy source particularly in Vanuatu, the Pacific archipelago inhabited by 217,000 people that spends about 20 percent of its annual budget on imported petroleum.
"It's a huge cost for a small economy like us," Vanuatu's Environment Minister Russell Nari told AFP on the sidelines of the island conference in Mauritius.
"If we have enough funds to produce coconut oil and if we don't have to fight against the oil lobby, islands may reduce seriously their dependency," he said.
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