Aging Coconut Palms and The Coconut Crisis

Aging Coconut Palms and The Coconut Crisis

Written by  The Green Coconut Sunday, 23 February 2014

Nearly 90% of the worlds coconuts are grown in the asia pacific region

The latest trend, everyone seems to be going nuts for coconuts. If you're into coconut juice otherwise known as coconut water the forecast doesn't sound to good. The worlds supply of coconut water, along with multitude of foods, oils, cosmetics and other products made form coconuts is potentially under threat. Asia's coconut palms, which mark the landscape from the Philippines to India, face a crisis as aging groves become less productive, with harvests that are a source of food and income for millions being outstripped by local and world demand.

The United Nation's Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on October 30, 2013 that - "Asia-Pacific's coconut trees are so old they cannot produce enough coconuts and by-products to keep up with the world's rapidly growing demand. As the aging trees produce fewer raw materials, the livelihoods of millions are affected."

Nearly 90% of the worlds coconuts are grown in the asia pacific region.

It has been pointed out that many of the coconut trees were planted 50 - 60 years ago following the end of World War II and are well past their productive years. Coconut palms are most productive between 10 and 30 years. The solution could be a replanting program which depending on the coconut species, could yield crops in two to three years. There’s an urgent need for replanting, said Hiroyuki Konuma, regional representative for Asia and the Pacific at the UN agency, which is coordinating a response to the challenge. While world consumption of coconut products is growing more than 10 percent a year, production is increasing by only 2 percent.

At risk is the a major part of rural economy, in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for about 85 percent of the global supply of the commodity that goes into food, fuel, soaps and cosmetics. In the Philippines, which is one of the big three coconut grower it is estimated that about one in five people depends on coconut crop to some extent.

The simple coconut is no longer a simple local crop but is now big business. In the Philippines, coconut oil is a top-10 export, with around $918.4 million worth of coconut commodity products exported from January to July 2013, up 7.7 percent from the year-earlier period, compared with total exports of $30.42 billion over the period. Indonesia, India and the Philippines account for around 70 percent of global coconut-product production according to the FAO.

Replanting aging coconut trees to keep up with growing demand is a key concern for all those concerned, but a cohesive approach is being hampered by the industry's fragmented nature. While large conglomerates control much of the region's oil palm plantations in contrast most coconut growers are small family owned farms. The FAO estimates that 95 percent of coconut trees are harvested by small-holders. 

Poor farmers

In addition over the last few years is that even though demand has surged this has not translated into better returns for coconut farmers in Asia Pacific and Latin America. The data to support this claim is provided by the Philippine Coconut Authority indicating that even though export volumes rose 1.49 percent in 2012, the value dropped by nearly 22 percent. Compounding the problem of replanting is that many of these farmers are poor to begin with or simply subsistence living and would be unable to replace crops even the wanted to. 

Reduced coconut productivity doesn't only matter to the rise in coconut water brands hitting the supermarket shelves and the consumer insatiable desire for all things coconut. More importantly millions of small farmers and the livelihoods of millions are dependant on the survival of the sector. For example in the Philippines the commodity could be as much as 5 percent of GDP and is its largest agriculture export. But it’s in countries like Samoa and Fiji, where an incredible 30 percent of GDP comes from coconut palms, that ageing trees will have the biggest impact. Even then farmers returns are not exactly lucrative where a single tree will only make a farmer about $17.50 a year.

Don’t despair replanting efforts are taking place and improved farming methods are being implemented. But the next time your purchasing some coconut water take a moment to think about where it came from.

The Green Coconut

The Green Coconut

The Young Green Coconut
Peace, Love & Coconuts

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