Sustaining the Coconut Industry Into the Future

Coconuts are one of the most important nuts in the world. All along the tropical coasts in the world, coconut farming provides work, shelter, and an income stream that have provided food, work, and other benefits to its people. But as the coconut craze spreads across the world (seriously though, how many coconut water brands do you see lining grocery store shelves), the sustainability of the “tree of life” is coming into jeopardy.

Two factors threaten the future production of coconut byproducts. The first is an aging coconut tree population. Coconut trees have an average lifespan of 60-70 years, with most of the current trees being planted after World War II. The other is an over reliance on producing only a select few products from the coconut tree.

The population of coconut trees in Indonesia is aging, meaning each year, the yield of the trees begins to dwindle. In their peak production, coconut trees can produce up to 50-75 nuts a year, as trees begin to age their productivity decreases to 30-40, and combined with lower quality nuts makes it difficult for small farmers to maximize the profitability of their resources.

Irawadi Jamaran, chairman of the Indonesian Coconut Board, noted that more than half of Indonesia’s 4 million hectares of palms are aging, or over 50 years old. Many coconut industry observers have noted that the main problem for the industry is a lack of government attention towards the small farmers, with increased attention for bigger plantations, especially oil palm.

What can we do? The first opportunity is to help farmers buy seeds and plant new trees on their plots of land. work with non-governmental groups such as the World Resource Institute or New Ventures Indonesia According to regional representatives at the UN, global demand for coconut products is increasing at over 10%/year, while coconut production is only increases at 2-3%. With current yields, coconut farmers simply won’t be able to keep up with increased global demand.

The second opportunity for a sustainable coconut ecosystem is to empower farmers to produce new products sourced from the coconut tree. Many small farmers may only produce sugar or desiccated coconuts, but the coconut tree is far more versatile.

Coconut husk, known as coir, is a versatile material that can be used to make particle board, packing material, automotive trunk liner and electric car battery pack covers. Coir can also be used to make charcoal, and the husk of the trees is used to  make high quality wood.

There are no doubt challenges to the future of the organic coconut industry, but the opportunity has never been brighter to replant a new generation of healthy coconut trees and continue to help small family farmers diversify their existing portfolio of coconut products of coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, and coconut oil into using all aspects of the coconut tree.

Frederic Zhang