Tue | Mar 28, 2023

St Mary’s Michael Swaby is ‘World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer’

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2023 | 12:39 AM
World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer, Michael Swaby, chops a coconut on his 38-acre farm in Crescent, St Mary, while his wife Primrose looks on.
Coconut farmer Michael Swaby pauses for a photo with wife Primrose, son Michael Swaby Jr (second right), and grandson Jaiesh Grant. Swaby was voted the World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer at a conference in Malaysia last year.

Since the tender age of 17, Michael Swaby has been an ardent coconut farmer in the scenic hills of Crescent, St Mary.

Never did he imagine that the sustainable practices he employs to maintain his passion-turned-business on his 38-acre farm would one day make him the best in the world.

It was, therefore, the most delightful surprise when he received news in November last year that he was voted the ‘World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer’ at a conference in Malaysia, topping entries from 21 coconut-producing countries.

“It was shocking … hard to believe. A lot of the other countries, I didn’t know them, and I thought they were more ahead of us in terms of practices and all the different [activities] that they were doing. I didn’t have any idea that I would be even close to competing with them,” Swaby, now 54, said.

He explained that he was nominated by the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), following his many years of association with the entity.

In 2016, he benefited from a regional training course put on by the CIB in association with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, the Scientific Research Council, and the European Union. From there, he was selected as a lead farmer to assist others in his community and to continually develop his and others’ farming practices.

Detailing some of his innovative measures that contributed to the international accolade, Swaby said, “I don’t waste anything … even the very husk, we sell them back as compost material. Some of the training that we got was to use everything from the nut.”

He pointed out that one of his biggest concerns has always been creating ways to make money from his waste. “Even now, I am trying to use the shell to do things that make use of it, and every part of the coconut itself. There are things that we can do beyond the coconut oil and coconut water,” he added.

The fruitful Swaby’s Farm also features tilapia fishponds, which double as a water source in dry times. Lined throughout the grounds are pipes that are used to moisten the soil.

Swaby practises intercropping, and plants bananas, plantains, apples, mangoes and other produce, while also rearing livestock, such as goats, chickens and pigs.

With his up to 10 workers, he reaps more than 1,000 coconuts per week, which he supplies to customers in St Ann and St Mary on Wednesdays and Fridays. He also bottles the coconut water for other markets.

He has come a far way from when he got the farm from his father in the 1980s.

“Most of the land was in total woods, so we had to cut it down. Banana and coconut were the most feasible crops in St Mary at that particular time, so we ventured into banana, and then later we did both banana and coconuts,” he recalled.

Today, the veteran farmer is the president of the Crescent Farmers’ Group, where he mentors and guides other farmers.

Swaby pointed out that receiving the title of World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer has not only been an honour, but also a boost for his business.

“The most important part of it is to get the highlight. Business is booming a little bit more and people are seeing what I am doing. Even though I am so far off the road and hidden, I am a little exposed,” Swaby said.

The 50th International COCOTECH Conference (ICC) and Exhibition was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, under the theme ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategy for a Resilient and Sustainable Coconut Agro-industry’.

The ICC was established in 1969. It is an independent intergovernmental organisation that consists of 21 member countries and accounts for 85-90 per cent of the world’s production of coconut.