Monday, November 4, 2013

Ageing coconut trees in Asia put livelihood of millions at risk - ANN

Asia's coconut trees are so old that production is falling well below global demand for coconut products, experts say.

New trees must be planted soon, or the decline in production will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers across the region, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

Indonesia, India and the Philippines as the world's top producers might have the most to lose, experts said at a three-day conference in Bangkok.

It ended yesterday with a call to immediately plant new stock and boost yields from existing "middle-aged" trees by using better farming techniques.

Global demand for everything from the flesh of the nut to coir fibre, as well as coconut oil and coconut water, is growing at roughly 10 per cent a year.

Yet, production is growing at only around 2 per cent a year in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Together, the three countries produce 47 billion coconuts a year, accounting for 70 to 80 per cent of the region's production. The region in turn accounts for 90 per cent of the world's production of coconuts.

Of the 13 countries represented at the conference, eight had sent ministers - signalling the urgency of the problem.

A coconut palm is at its most productive when it is between 10 and 30 years old. However, most coconut palms in the region are over 50 years old, the FAO says.

Essentially, farmers content with good harvests have neglected to plant new seedlings. India, for example, needs to replant 450,000ha with new trees, which will require millions of seedlings.

There is no alternative, said Mr Romulo Arancon, the Jakarta-based executive director of the 19-member Asia and Pacific Coconut Community.

"It is really a smallholder industry, and even if it is a minor contributor in terms of gross domestic product for some countries, the population involved in it is enormous," he said.

He estimated that one in five people in the Philippines - which earns US$1 billion a year from coconut exports - depends directly or indirectly on the coconut sector.

Moreover, on some Pacific and Asian islands, coconut palms buffer shorelines against rising sea levels.

"It is the coconut that keeps us alive," said Mr Ahmed Shafeeu, the Maldives' Fisheries and Agriculture Minister.


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