Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Asia's coconut groves, a key component in South and Southeast Asian economies from the Philippines to India, face a crisis as rapidly aging trees become less productive, curbing harvests. In fact, yields decline as trees grow older. This can negatively impact food supplies and incomes for millions.
For experts with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Asia's coconut palms face a crisis as rapidly aging groves become less productive. With many of the trees planted up to 60 years ago after World War II, they no longer yield enough to meet rising global demand. Therefore, there is an urgent need for replanting and rejuvenation to maintain high output.
The Asia-Pacific regime accounts for about 85 percent of the global supply of the commodity that goes into food, fuel, soaps and cosmetics. In the Philippines, one in five people depends on the crop to some extent, this according to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community.
The issue is vital. According to FAO, harvests in the Asia-Pacific yield about 40 nuts per tree a year compared with a potential yield of 75 to 150. Replanting is advisable after 60 years.
India, Asia's third-largest economy, is the top producer, harvesting 17 billion nuts last year, followed by Indonesia, which gathered 15.4 billion, and the Philippines, with 15.2 billion. The global coconut area covers about 12.3 million hectares, yielding 64.3 billion nuts.
It is worth noting that in aforementioned countries, notwithstanding rapid industrialisation, agriculture accounted for 17 per cent of GDP last year in India, 15 per cent in Indonesia (2011 figures), and 13 per cent in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, an estimated 340 million trees cover 26 per cent of farmland, yielding 43 nuts per tree a year, accounting for as much as 5 per cent of the Filipino GDP
Kerala is the top producer in India, followed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Whilst a trial programme to replace aged palms has boosted productivity in Kerala, yields are still dropping in the three other states, sometimes by as much as third.
By contrast, output is stable in Vietnam at about 100 nuts per tree a year in most areas, up from about 60 a few years ago.
Scientists explain that replanting would increase output by 50 to 100 per cent within a few years with a mature palm producing as many as 400 nuts a year. However, governments are more interested in rice and palm oil than in coconut, FAO experts noted.