A Coconut Crisis Strikes Southeast Asia

The "tree of life" is no longer producing the amount of coconuts it once did, which could threaten the economy of some Southeast Asian countries.

Photo: Chirantan Patnaik

Photo: Chirantan Patnaik

Coconut trees planted after World War II are beginning to show their age, reports Bloomberg‘s Haslinda Amin. Trees which once yielded 75 to 100 coconuts each year produce only around 40 today. The demand for coconut rises 10% each year, while production increases only 2%.

In the news segment, Amin reports that coconuts represent 17% of India’s GDP (more than $1 billion each year) and 15% of the overall Indonesian GDP. It’s no surprise, then, that the coconut tree is called “the tree of life” in parts of India. Rural economies, in particular, depend upon the income and food source that coconuts provide. Amin also reports that the crisis has been overlooked because governments often put resources toward bigger plantations like palm oil.

Kerala, India, is one of the first places to begin replanting trees in an attempt to sustain the local economy. According to The Indian Express, 38% of Kerala’s economy lies in coconuts. Age is not their only threat, however. There has been a recent, large-scale conversion of fields into rubber plantations. ”With natural rubber prices hovering at a record high for the last three years, traditional coconut farmers are forced to try their luck in latex,” Philip writes.

Central Plantation Crop Research Institute (CPCRI) director Dr George Thomas tells The Indian Express that ”Kerala farmers have failed to promote a coconut-based cropping system in which other crops such as vegetables and tuber crops should be grown to increase income.” Cropping is an agricultural term that refers to rotating a primary crop with other plants which replace minerals in the soil. Over time, the system helps keep production up and the land in good condition.

Efforts are underway to replant in other parts of Southeast Asia. Investine reports that the “Coconut Rehabilitation Road Map” in the Phillipines aims to oversee the replanting of trees in Southern Leyte, aiding some 64,000 local families.

Watch Amin’s full report on Bloomberg TV.

[via Bloomberg]

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