The coconut industry is a revenue spinner. Plans are afoot to energize the coconut industry, which has huge potential for growth, despite the challenges facing it. “A DANIEL ESSEIT REPORTS”

The global coconut products market is expected to hit $31.1 billion by 2026, according to ReportLinker, a market research firm.

Reportlinker says increase in demand for coconut products such as coconut milk, coconut water, and desiccated coconut in the food and beverage industry is among the factors that will drive the market globally.

In 2019, the number of coconuts produced worldwide reached 62million tonnes. Overall, coconut oil production continues to indicate a relatively flat trend pattern. In 2019, coconut export price was $487 per tonne.

However, Nigeria is not among the countries with the highest volumes of coconut production.The countries are the Philippines (1.2 million tonnes), Indonesia (885K tonnes) and India (390K tonnes), with a combined 76 per cent share of global production.

Despite its huge coconut consumption, analysts said Nigeria buys the bulk of its coconut from Ghana and Ivory Coast, and ranks 19th on the list of producers in the world.

According to the United Nations Statistics Office, Nigeria spent $293,214.22 and $219,446.53 on coconut imports in 2018 and 2019, an amount higher than $186,094.58 spent on coconut import in 2017.

Analysts said Nigeria’s importation of coconut has risen over years by more than 80 per cent as the country has not been able to produce enough coconut locally.

At an event in Lagos, Chairman, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Mr. Sani Dangote, said Nigeria was losing $1billion yearly from untapped potential in the coconut sector.

Dangote, who is also the Vice-President, Dangote Group, said the losses came because the country was neither developing coconuts for domestic use nor exporting it to meet global demand.

He said the potential of the industry to improve the country’s economy and lift coconut farmers from poverty had not been fully maximised.

But the government would not want coconut importation to continue. To revive the billion dollar industry, the Federal Government, Lagos State Government and various industry groups have been finding ways to boost coconuts production.

There is a programme for replanting, as well as enterprise development training for growers across the industry.

The Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs. Mariam Katagum, reiterated that the Federal Government was committed to supporting efforts aimed at harnessing coconut whose global market worth is estimated at over $6 billion.

She said the commodity has lot of economic, medicinal and nutritional value and enjoys huge market.

At the recent inauguration of the coconut planting season in Abuja, the minister, however, expressed concern that despite its economic benefits, local supply could only meet about 20 per cent of demand.

Reversing this trend is a key test for food system transformation and Lagos State government has signalled its determination to do that.

Lagos State has stated that it is seeking suitable public-private partnerships to help boost the production of coconuts.

Increased production and enhanced trade are some of the key strategies to be implemented by the state government to boost the industry’s competitiveness.

One of the objectives of the state’s coconut value chain development plan is to have 10 million productive coconut trees for sustainable supply of raw materials to industries.

The Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms. Abisola Olusanya, noted that there was high demand for coconuts and its by-products. This, for her, was an opportunity for the country to explore.

Addressing a forum organised by the Lagos Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), Ms. Olusanya, said the government was seeking to collaborate with private growers to boost the supply of coconuts.

She added that what the government wanted from stakeholders was support on broad areas of improvement for the coconut industry, supply of productive trees and farmers’ productivity and access to technology.

Earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Hakeem Adeniji, said the state government was ready to encourage the commercialisation of coconut for local and export markets.

He reiterated the commitment of the government to support coconut farmers, processors, marketers, haulage operators, producers among others on food security, job and wealth creation and tourism.

He said: “Coconut grows naturally along the coastal terrain and cultivated in about 92 countries of the world, including India, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri-Lanka and Nigeria.

“Seventy per cent of the total production from Nigeria is produced in Lagos State and ranks Nigeria 19th in the World Coconut producing countries.

”In addition, close to 80 per cent of the coconut value chain activities, especially in the area of supply of improved seedlings to commercial coconut growers in other 26 coconut producing states of Nigeria is being driven from and by Lagos State.

“The state is naturally blessed with a vast Coconut Belt embedded with abundance of coconut resources and it has comparative advantages over other crops in the country at large.

“It has about three million trees with annual production of 200 million husked nuts while about 20,000 small scale farming families derive their livelihood from it and the number increases daily.’’

Replanting of coconut trees on a massive scale, the Lagos State Coordinator, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs. Olayinka Akeredolu, noted, was required if the sector is to meet growing demand for coconut products.

Mrs. Akeredolu noted that the problem with the coconut industry was that the farmers were still using the old variety, which is affecting yields.

She said better varieties of coconut seedlings were in the market. These include the dwarf, which is easier to harvest and has high yields.

One of the problems farmers face and why the government has to step in, she noted, was that it takes three years for a coconut plant to produce a yield, compared with crops that mature in three months.

Hence, farmers would need to supplement their income by planting crops, which have a short harvesting period, while waiting for their first harvest.

She called for a comprehensive strategy covering the entire value chain, from the production of seedlings ,increasing the number of plantations to improving farm management.

The participants in the forum, while outlining some recommendations about improving planting material, public-private partnership, and a clearer understanding of the marketing opportunities, maintained that the industry constitutes an important sector in agricultural development.

They supported the coconut industry development plan in the areas of value addition to products and linkages to the market.

The National President, National Coconut Producers Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria, Nma Okoroji, said it was time people started seeing potential in the industry, as there were varieties could double the income of farmers.

Internationally, she informed the forum that Nigeria’s coconut had been adjudged to be of finest quality.

To boost domestic production, she said the association was encouraging each family to plant three coconut trees.

The General Secretary, Lagos State Coconut Sellers and Traders Association (LASCOSTRAS), Tunde Hunpatin, complained about seizure of coconut by the Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies.

The Lagos State Chapter Chairman, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Otunba Femi Oke, said increasing the contribution of the coconut subsector to agricultural gross domestic product(GDP) would help the economy of Lagos.

The local coconut industry has its fair share of challenges experienced by all the players, from big companies to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and even micro-businesses.

The supply of coconuts, the Managing Director, The Coconut Place, Mrs Ebun Feludu, noted, unable to meet local processing demand.

She explained that demand for coconut products has raised as a result of higher awareness of the health benefits of the fruit.

She hoped the government would support coconut growers in adopting new technology in farming practices to bring costs down so that downstream players like her can source more coconuts from local farmers.

In a communiqué at the end of the forum, stakeholders called on the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and other research institutes to conduct research on improved varieties of coconut with lesser gestation period.

They called for more efforts to replace old coconut trees with high yielding varieties and increase coconut productivity through proper cultural management and fertilisation.

Other resolutions include the need to encourage intercropping with other arable crops such as pineapple, cotton, maize, soya beans to ensure quick returns and the need to rebrand coconut to attract youths to the value chain.

“Provide an enabling environment for Public-Private Partnership with the private sector and other individuals; encourage planting of coconut tree in our homes and environment and Establishment of tissue culture lab for growing viable planting materials.

“Collaboration between NIFOR and LASCODA in providing planting materials; trade issues and land issues can be facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and partners and increase sensitisation on the health, economic and environmental benefits of coconut,” the communiqué added.

The stakeholders also called for a strong partnership with the Nigeria Agribusiness and Agro-Industry Development Initiative for the development of the value chain; increased daily consumption of coconut and the setting up of a committee for the replacement of old coconut palms.

They also urged families with land to allocate them through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the production of coconut; called on the Lagos State University (LASU) Research Institute to work with NIFOR on research in the production of coconut as well as the identification of key entry points of coconut into the country.

The stakeholders also called for a meeting with the Customs and security agencies to proffer a sustainable solution to the challenges of border transportation.

“To conduct a baseline study of the entire value chain to understand the operations within the coconut industry to ensure ease of doing business; synergy among MDAs in the coconut value chain development.

“Rehabilitation of the coastal line through partnership with the private sector and establishment of a standard operating procedure on the importation of coconut,” the communiqué said.