Bangkok, Thailand, 01 Nov 2013 -- Replanting of coconut trees on a massive scale is required if the coconut producing countries of Asia and the Pacific are to meet the world’s rapidly growing demand for coconut products.
Delegates from the governments of 13 Asia-Pacific countries, including eight Ministers of Agriculture, participating in the High-Level Regional Consultation on Coconut Sector Development in Asia and the Pacific also noted that technical and financial assistance would be needed, and soon, if their countries are to rehabilitate one of their most important agricultural products and help poor farmers.
All seven species of the region’s coconut trees are aging and producing fewer raw materials. The lifespan of a coconut tree is 100 years, but in economic terms a coconut tree reaches its peak production (as many as 400 coconuts per year) between 10 and 30 years of age.
As many of the regions trees were planted shortly after the end of World War Two, their advanced age means they are producing far fewer coconuts and hence the livelihoods of millions are affected. The vast majority, 95 percent of coconut trees are harvested by small-holders.
The Asia-Pacific region produces 90 percent of the world’s coconut products, such as coconut oil, water and milk, virgin coconut oil, and raw materials such as fibrous materials and timbers used in construction. Global demand for these products is growing at more than ten percent a year, but the present rate of production growth is only two percent annually.
“Asia and the Pacific’s aging coconut trees simply can’t keep up with the growing demand,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. “This regional consultation has enhanced the understanding of governments that action will be needed, and soon, in order to respond to the challenge of replanting,” he added. “The group has also called for South-South cooperation and public-private sector investment.” The scale of replanting is a real concern to the main producers such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines, whose combined production accounts for 70 percent of global coconut sector products. Indonesia, the top producer, would need to replant some 450,000 hectares. In order to do so, “new seedlings would be needed, perhaps a hybrid variety,” said Romulo Arancon, Executive Director of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community. But smaller countries also need help to deal with the issue.
“The coconut is the life of our island,” said Ahmed Shafeeu, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture from the Maldives, noting that – in addition to the economic value – the roots of coconut trees prevent further erosion of beaches on the small island state.
In Samoa and Fiji, coconut trees and their products account for 30 percent of GDP, and the majority of small scale farmers are dependent on coconuts for their livelihoods.
In the Philippines “livelihoods of one in every five Filipinos is directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut sector,” said Arancon, noting that the coconut sector provides US$ 1 billion in exports – its largest export commodity.
Some action is underway to address growing demand. Thailand has diversified into a variety of export products such as virgin coconut oil and an aromatic hybrid coconut for coconut juice, which is also increasingly in demand. Yet even Thailand is importing coconuts from Indonesia and Viet Nam to feed its industry.