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Going Nuts For Coconuts

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Jamaica joined the rest of the world on September 2 to observe World Coconut Day. Celebrated annually to raise awareness about the use and benefits of coconuts in various industries, the theme for 2023 was "Sustaining the Coconut Sector for the Present and Future Generations".

Speaking at the event, held at the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) headquarters, Mr Orville Palmer, Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining (MOAFM), urged current and potential coconut farmers to act upon the incentives available such as a variety of free seedlings, fertilisers, and grants for weed control under the rehabilitation planting programme.

Mr Orville Palmer - Chief Technical Director

Participants at the day’s event were exposed to climate-smart agricultural practices, pests and disease management, and technical information from the CIB. In addition, many got the opportunity to showcase their food and beauty culture products and by-products.

Industry Opportunities

Coconuts were introduced to Jamaica in the 16th Century by Spanish colonists. There are numerous opportunities for investment in coconut production in Jamaica. The country is a net importer of coconut products. Current productions are insufficient to meet local demands and to enable capitalisation on emerging global opportunities. The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has, therefore, embarked on a plan to attract 1,500 new coconut farmers and bring an additional 150,000 acres under production for the next eight years.

Coconut Seedling

Depending on the variety and intercropping choices, some 80 to 100 trees can be cultivated per acre. The business can be profitable with the right production techniques. The plant is also inter-cropping friendly and many crops such as coffee, bananas, plantains, pineapples, peppers, and other food crops can be grown with coconuts. The CIB’s stringent management of the industry through Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has seen strident rehabilitation of the sector over the years.

The Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica reports an estimated annual production of 115.8 million, in 2021; a 6.4% over 2020 and a 15% increase over the 2009 figures of 95.5 million.

“They achieve this by encouraging efficient production, adopting innovative technologies, providing ongoing research and support, enhancing vertical integration through sustainable product development, and creating marketing opportunities for the many products that can be made from coconuts,” Palmer said.

Benefits Of Coconut And By-Products

Coconuts are packed with a wealth of benefits and may be used in their raw state or as derivative by-products in the medical, health, beauty, and food industries. The water can be consumed by itself or mixed with other beverages and even used for cooking as well as used as a blood plasma substitute. The soft, young flesh may be eaten, and the mature hard flesh is usually used to make coconut milk, coconut oil, flour, or snacks. Coconut by-products are popularly used in the preparation of numerous meals or as ingredients in beauty products.

Beauty Product Sample

Coconuts are rich in dietary fibre and vitamins C, E, and some B vitamins including minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and copper which have benefits for the brain, heart, and blood vessels (cardiovascular) as well as mental health benefits. Cardiovascular diseases are among the leading causes of death in Jamaica and around the world as reported by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), respectively.

Challenges In The Industry

Assessments by the CIB and other players in the development sector have highlighted numerous challenges that are well documented. Many small farmers lack the technical capacity and resources and are disproportionately exposed and negatively impacted by many of the risks facing the industry.

Lethal Yellowing remains the most devastating disease that has affected coconut. Though more tolerant varieties have been introduced, and disease spread has reduced by 70%, the industry remains vulnerable to the Lethal Yellowing Disease which was first observed on the Western end of the island in 1870 and expanded to the East in 1961. By 1971, the industry was devasted by Lethal Yellowing, destroying up to 90% of plants within less than three years as reported by the CIB. Other diseases such as bud rot, and pests such as coconut scale insets continue to pose risks.

The rapid progression of climate change is also affecting coconut production, and farmers need training on how to adapt to changing weather patterns, conserve soil and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For many small farmers, capacity building is also critical to improving the overall productivity and sustainability of coconut farming. Many lack basic skills such as record-keeping, information technology, financial management, marketing, and farm planning, which limits their ability to make informed decisions to boost production and productivity or access financial services.

Mature Coconut Fruit

Market access is another critical area where farmers need training. Many lack information on market prices, quality standards, and marketing channels, which limits their ability to negotiate fair prices for their products. Additionally, farmers need training on value addition, including processing and packaging of coconut products to improve their income and competitiveness.

In addition, infrastructure challenges such as lack of modern harvesting equipment, agro-processing facilities, irrigation and storage, the declining state of farms roads, and other high inputs costs such as labour, and fertiliser are genuine issues. Praedial larceny too is a problem. Drones and other farm management software can help to mitigate this risk, but again, due to unaffordability and limited skills to manipulate these tools, many small farmers continue to be plagued by loss from farm theft.

Industry Governance

The CIB is responsible for monitoring and informing the GOJ of the state of the coconut industry and providing growers with best practices in agronomy and the provision of quality planting materials. In doing so, the CIB undertakes ongoing research to support market development and sustainability of the industry.

The Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) regulates and develops the standards for the agricultural commodities industry (cocoa, coffee, coconut, and spices (nutmeg, pimento, ginger, and turmeric), through the setting of quality standards, quality assurance, and certification services governing the trading if the coconut industry.


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