Coconuts – new frontier for food and nutrition security, reducing poverty

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On the beachfront grounds of the White House in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, Derik engages delegates to the Caribbean Week of Agriculture and divulges his obviously vast knowledge of all that coconuts have to offer.

Derik is effusive. He’s a proponent, a champion of coconuts.

His perfectly packaged coconut flour, perched on a makeshift stand in the sand, catches the eye. A single question launches an extensive, interesting conversation.

He massages with a coconut paste that leaves the unsuspecting forearm refreshingly light, silky, tingly.

He swears another concoction has the effect of botox. “Take a smell. How does it smell?” he asks.

He warms to the subject of coconut-based toothpaste that might “turn the toothbrush yellow” because of the turmeric that he uses in it.

Skin care and health products aside, he also showcases insect repellents, ornaments crafted from coconut shells, and candles.

A stone’s throw away from Derik, a group of visitors good-naturedly demand “coconut with jelly” from the bartender. They drink the sweet liquid straight from the nut, handing it back to the machete-wielding bartender to work her magic so that they could taste the white flesh – the jelly.

Coconuts are trending.

Coconut is a super product; the tree of life. All its parts can be used, so it’s easy to accept when experts contend that it has more than a hundred functions.

And while its versatility has long been recognised, the Caribbean is moving aggressively to take greater advantage of the renewed interest in coconuts and the multi-billion dollar industry. After all, the Region is the place to which entrepreneurs look for the raw material.

In Guyana alone – where a coconut development roadmap was launched in October – the coconut industry produces 92 million nuts annually and is the country’s leading non-traditional export crop. There are those who maintain that the best coconuts in the world are from the country’s Pomeroon area where about 20 000 acres of land of five varieties are under coconut cultivation. Or perhaps they come from the Shell Beach area, others argue. There are close to 1 500 coconut farmers in Guyana. The country’s Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin said that Guyana has been exporting about US$5M worth of coconut products annually over the last two years. Coconuts are also among the crops Guyana has identified in its 2017 Budget for the expansion of non-traditional agricultural production. Coconut nurseries are to be established and operationalised in key locations, and consideration is being given to importing elite planting material for distribution to farmers. Emphasis is being placed on value-added products with coconut water, and virgin coconut oil among priorities.

Recently, Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Mr. Barton Clarke pointed out that Guyanese farmers were re-investing in coconuts. New plantations were being developed and existing ones were being rehabilitated.

A few days ahead of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) in the Cayman Islands 24-28 October, 2016, Guyana held a Coconut Festival during Coconut Awareness Week. At the CWA, a seminar was devoted to assessing the Region’s coconut industry status and charting the way forward. CARDI led the discourse.

At the CWA, Mr. Clarke, described the coconut industry as the “new frontier” to contribute the Region’s efforts towards food and nutrition security and poverty alleviation.

An action plan for the coconut industry was mapped out earlier in the Week. Mr. Clarke said that investment profiles were being compiled and that CARDI was collaborating with the government of Guyana to invest in a commercial 3000 acres farm. He added that integrated pest management, value-added products, market development and market establishment, establishing seed banks in some countries and the development of germ plasm in coconuts, were also elements of the action plan.

Given the period of growth for coconuts, Mr. Clarke said that CARDI was advocating inter-cropping, in the intervening years. He said that CARDI was developing models for inter-cropping with livestock, and different crops, for example, so that there are resources for sustenance.

Data from the Region showed that there was a significant increase in coconut production by about 30 per cent since 2010.

“We are not running out of coconuts,” Mr. Clarke maintained, though he did admit that “there are issues” such a red ring and lethal yellowing diseases affecting the industry.

“… but these are being managed and can be managed. Part of the problem is that they are not being managed adequately,” he assured.

 

For coconut aficionadas and entrepreneurs like Derik and the thousands of coconut farmers in the Region, this is good news.

 

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