Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Caribbean running out of coconuts

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 6:00 AMChristopher Serju

The Caribbean is not able to meet the growing global demand for coconut products, especially water - a situation not likely to be resolved any time soon.

Stakeholders in the regional industry, who met in Jamaica last Thursday and Friday, noted that the urgency of the situation requires a strong, collaborative and sustainable development programme that is built on high-quality planting material.

"The region is running out of coconuts," Dr Compton Paul, regional coordinator of the four-year Coconut Industry Develop-ment for the Caribbean project, told the audience during Thursday's opening ceremony.

"We don't have enough coconuts to do the kind of processing we are talking about, even for coconut water, because you are finding that the people are not allowing the nuts to mature properly before they harvest them for coconut water because the demand in that market is so great," he later explained to The Gleaner.

Small farmers, processors, researchers and technicians were among the regional stakeholders gathered at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston to discuss nursery and seedling management, varietal selection, hybridisation and tissue-culture production.

The region is still grappling with the effects of the lethal yellowing disease, which has devastated entire plantations in Jamaica and most of the other coconut-growing countries, resulting in a severe shortage of seed nuts - a situation from which it is yet to recover.

Financed by the European Union (EU) at a cost of €3.5 million and implemented jointly by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and International Trade Centre, the project, now in its second year, seeks to revive and put on a path to sustainability the coconut industries in nine CARIFORUM countries.

IMPROVING QUALITY

"As part of the ... project, we are to deal with the production of high-quality material - not only seed nuts. It has also to deal with, first of all, the types of varieties that are in our countries and what we need to do to improve the varieties that we have - either by seed nuts or by tissue culture," Paul disclosed.

To this end, more than 20 persons from different stakeholder groups in the affected countries have already been trained in the production of high-quality planting material.

However, the search to find coconut varieties that are resistant to lethal yellowing and the other diseases, as well as pests, is ongoing, the regional coordinator disclosed.

"We are looking at moving germ plasm from Mexico, South East Asia, Brazil, Africa - wherever we can find improved germ plasm. We already sent some people to Mexico. We are [also] sending some people to Brazil to look at the varieties that are available there and how we can get those varieties into the Caribbean region."

Meanwhile, Dr Wayne Myrie, plant pathologist at the Coconut Industry Board and chairman of the national stakeholders' platform for the regional coconut industry development project, gave some insight into just what Jamaica is missing out on.

"The coconut water industry in the United States is valued at about US$550 million per annum. It is projected to grow to US$4 billion by 2019. We have just managed to get a very tiny percentage of that market. I can't give you the exact figure, but a very tiny percentage.

He continued: "The European Union, at the moment, is importing €550 million worth of palm and coconut each year. CARIFORUM countries just managed to export €28,000 to the EU, so the potential for the growth of this industry is tremendous."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com