Asia-Pacific’s “aging population” of coconut trees threatens economies and livelihoods

06/11/2013 - 

Bangkok, Thailand, 30 Oct 2013 -- 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.

So critical is the need for a coordinated solution, 15 countries from Asia and the Pacific, have gathered in Bangkok, including ten government Ministers and officials from the largest producers such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines, to participate in a three day consultation convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

"Nearly 90 percent of the world’s coconuts and other products derived from coconut trees originate in this region, but the sector has problems and requires rehabilitation," said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, following the opening session. "There is a need for replanting and rehabilitation of coconut trees," Konuma said, pointing out that many of the coconut trees alive today were planted 50 – 60 years ago following the end of World War Two and therefore well past their most productive years.

In opening the three day consultation, the host government acknowledged the timeliness of the meeting and stressed the need for a coordinated approach. "Coconut is an important crop for us all," said Siriwat Kajornprasart, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, adding that Thailand has a lot to gain from the regional value-added approach the delegates are considering this week. "Our (coconut sector) productivity is low and most trees are old. Our scientists have been working hard to increase productivity."

The Asia-Pacific region is by far the largest producer and exporter of coconut products. The sector is vital to the economies of many countries, particularly smaller, island states. The largest producer for domestic consumption, India, harvests some 16 billion coconuts annually from nearly 2 million hectares. Indonesia and the Philippines produce 16 billion and 15 billion coconuts respectively for both domestic and export markets. "Livelihoods of one in every five Filipinos is directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut sector," said Romulo Arancon, a meeting organizer and Executive Director of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community.

Increasing demand for coconut products has prompted Thailand to diversify 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.

 While prompt action is needed to rehabilitate the sector in order to meet the growing demand and ensure small-holders benefit, Asia-Pacific’s aging population of coconut trees could be rejuvenated through a concerted programme of replanting. Depending on their species, coconut trees can start to produce palm within just two or three years and "with replanting and improved agricultural practices, a 50 – 100 percent increase in production is achievable within a few years," said Arancon, adding that a mature palm can produce as many as 400 coconuts per year.

Aside from the importance to the economies and livelihoods of millions, coconut trees protect the embankments of coastlines and waterways, giving an environmental incentive to governments and communities to replant.

The 15 countries represented at this high-level consultation will deliver their conclusions and recommendations, including a regional coconut strategy, at Noon, Friday 1 November, at the Novotel Siam Hotel, Library, floor B1. You or your representatives are invited to attend the closing session and news conference that will immediately follow.

Submitted by: Allan Dow