Hybrid coconut: Its potential to help overcome poverty
AGRICULTURE EXPERTS are convinced that without widespread shifting from the cultivation of low yielding traditional varieties to high yielding hybrids ofwheat and corn, a good portion of the world’s population today will go hungry. Hybrid rice helped bring about food sufficiency in China.The shifting from the cultivation of traditional varieties to high yielding corn hybrids recently transformed the Philippines from an importing to an exporting country of corn grains.High yielding hybrid oil palm meets the world’s huge requirement for cheap and healthful vegetable oil and brings rural prosperity among the farmers in the leading hybrid oil palm producing countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Recent research findings show that high yielding coconut hybrids can provide farmers with high yields and incomesabove the poverty level. The Philippines has 3.5 million hectares (ha) of coconut farms representing almost one-third of the Philippine land area devoted to agriculture. Millions of coconut farmers are among the poorest of the poor in the country.
In the Cocolink International Coconut Conference organized by the DTI and the Davao Region Coconut Industry Cluster, Inc. and held at SMX, Davao Cityin July 2016, a unique paper discussed the emerging expansion of the cultivation of hybrid coconut in India,supported largely by private companies like Deejay Coconut Breeding Farm, with 200 ha.The Deejay Coconut Breeding Farm produces hybrids by crossing the Malayan yellow dwarf and a tall Indian variety. In the process, the farm produces and makes availablefor sale to Indian farmers two million ready-to-plant hybrid coconut seedlings per year. What Deejay does is similar to what a private company producing and selling hybrid corn seeds to corn farmers does.
The coconut seedlings are planted at a density of 175 trees/ha, adequately weeded, fertilized, and provided with low cost drip irrigation during dry months. The water requirement is less than one-fourth of what is needed for lowland rice. Drip irrigation supplies water to coconut trees even in rugged terrains. This cultivation of hybrid coconut trees is a departure from the common practice of planting coconut using traditional low yielding varieties, inadequate weeding and fertilization techniques, and without irrigation.
The hybrids produced by Deejay Breeding Farm flower in just 18 months, and the harvest of the first mature nuts comes 27 months after planting.When they reach four years old (and older), the trees produce, on the average, 250 nuts/tree per year or an equivalent to 43,5750 nuts/ha per year, equivalent to 8.75 tons of copra/ha per year.
This is four times the national average coconut yield in India of 10,117 nuts/ha per year and more than ten times the average coconut yield in the Philippines of only 4,101 nuts/ha per year. This is also higher than the yield of hybrid coconut trees previously observed by the author at United Plantation Berhad, Malaysia, which produces, on the average, 36,000 nuts/ha per year using the Philippine-developed hybrid “Matag.”
The current farmgate price of copra in the Philippines is R30/ kilogram (kg) or R240,000 for the eight tons of yield. Granting that one-third of that goes to expenses, the net income of R160,000 is twice the current level of income at poverty levels of R87,000.
The high coconut yield also results in higher amounts of raw materials for the production of virgin coconut oil, coir fibers, and dust for the production of many downstream products, young nuts for coconut juice, and soft cotyledon or meat and coconut water, coconut cream, coconut milk, ethanol to fuel transport vehicles, coconut husks as feedstock for electricity, and coconut sugar to meet the increasing worldwide demand for sweeteners suitable for diabetics. Interestingly, hybrid coconuts produce more economic output with less land area. This is important for the Philippines considering the limited farm size of coconut under the agrarian reform program and the dwindling amount of land resources for meeting the needs of the rapidly expanding population.