Nov 05, 2013

    Coconut crisis looms as postwar palm trees age


    ASIA'S coconut growers face a crisis as rapidly ageing groves become less productive, diminishing harvests that are a source of food and income for millions.

    The trees, many of which were planted 50 to 60 years ago after World War II, no longer yield enough to meet rising global demand, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    There's an urgent need for replanting and rejuvenation, said Mr Hiroyuki Konuma, regional representative for Asia and the Pacific at the agency, which is seeking to coordinate a response to the challenge.

    At stake is the productivity of a core part of the rural economy in Asia, which accounts for about 85 per cent of the global supply of the commodity that goes into food, fuel, soaps and cosmetics.

    In the Philippines, among the three biggest growers, one in five people depends on the crop to some extent, said the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community.

    "We have a lot of ageing trees," Ms Yvonne Agustin, executive director of the United Coconut Association of the Philippines, said, adding that some local palms are already 100 years old.

    The slender trees that are a staple image for tourists' postcards are productive for between 50 years and a century, with the highest yields in the first three decades, according to the FAO.

    More than half of Indonesia's 4 million ha of palms are ageing, or over 50 years old, said Mr Irawadi Jamaran, chairman of the Indonesian Coconut Board, which groups producers, processors and sellers.

    The main problem for the industry is a lack of government attention, with greater concern for bigger plantations, especially oil palm, Mr Irawadi said.

    "Coconut is often overlooked by many people because we're always looking at rice and oil palm, and people don't think coconut is an important one."