Tap­ping the co­conut rich ge­netic re­sources to meet the op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges of the co­conut farm­ers

Agriculture - - Contents - Note: Those who would like to learn more about the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able in co­conut pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing may want to at­tend in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences on co­conut, such as the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Co­conut Oil (ICCO2017), to be held on 15 to 18

CUR­RENTLY, there is an in­creas­ing and re­newed in­ter­est in co­conut farm­ing among small­hold­ers and cor­po­rate farm­ers in­volv­ing thou­sands of hectares. Sev­eral for­eign in­vestors have shown in­ter­est in in­vest­ing in both the pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing of co­conut into high end prod­ucts. This was brought about by the high do­mes­tic and for­eign de­mand for high value prod­ucts other than the tra­di­tional low value co­conut prod­uct: co­pra for veg­etable cook­ing oil. Emerg­ing co­conut-based high value prod­ucts gen­er­ate high farm in­comes. These in­clude, among oth­ers, co­conut su­gar, trimmed young nuts for co­conut wa­ter and soft nuts for food, canned co­conut wa­ter, vir­gin co­conut oil (VCO), co­conut milk, and co­conut-based beauty and health prod­ucts.

One of the ma­jor de­ci­sions a farmer should take into con­sid­er­a­tion in ex­ploit­ing these new op­por­tu­ni­ties is the se­lec­tion of the ap­pro­pri­ate va­ri­ety or hy­brid to plant for max­i­mum pro­duc­tion of the tar­geted high value prod­ucts. Co­conut is a long du­ra­tion crop of 40 years or more. The se­lec­tion of the va­ri­ety to plant will have an im­pact on the how quickly one can at­tain a high in­come and how long this high in­come can be sus­tained. If a mis­take is made in the se­lec­tion of the ap­pro­pri­ate va­ri­ety, chang­ing the va­ri­ety will in­cur high costs and re­sult in the loss of years of in­come.

For ex­am­ple, if a farmer de­cides to en­gage in co­conut su­gar pro­duc­tion, plant­ing a tra­di­tional va­ri­ety which pro­duces two liters of toddy daily for coco su­gar pro­cess­ing would mean low pro­duc­tion lev­els of less than 17 tons of co­conut su­gar/hectare or ha per year as com­pared to the yield of the “Matag” hy­brid, which is over six liters of toddy/day. This means over 54 tons of coco su­gar for an in­come of over one mil­lion pe­sos/ha per year.

COM­PAR­I­SON OF YIELDS BE­TWEEN DWARF AND TALL VA­RI­ETIES LO­CALLY The Philip­pine Co­conut Au­thor­ity – Zam­boanga Re­search Cen­ter (PCA-ZRC) in San Ra­mon, Zam­boanga City has a cur­rent lo­cal and for­eign ge­netic col­lec­tion of more than 51 tall and 24 dwarf va­ri­eties. The PCA-ZRC has also, through re­search, de­vel­oped four out­stand­ing hy­brids. The fea­tures of some of these va­ri­eties and hy­brids—which are now being du­pli­cated at the au­thors’ Triple P Farms and Nurs­ery (TPFN) Co­conut Hy­bridiza­tion and Re­search and De­vel­op­ment (R&D) Cen­ter in Agu­san del Sur is shown in Ta­ble 1.

The dwarf va­ri­eties are gen­er­ally char­ac­ter­ized by their slow stem elon­ga­tion com­pared to that of the tall va­ri­eties. The for­mer pro­duce smaller, shorter, and more abun­dant leaves than the tall va­ri­eties. Upon ma­tu­rity, the tall va­ri­eties pro­duce an­nu­ally, on the av­er­age, 12 leaves ac­com­pa­nied by flow­ers which may de­velop into nuts. Most dwarf va­ri­eties upon ma­tu­rity pro­duce 15 to 17 leaves; some dwarf va­ri­eties pro­duce an­nu­ally 22 to 24 leaves with flow­ers which may de­velop into bunches of nuts.

More­over, the dwarf va­ri­eties bear nuts ear­lier, within three years af­ter field plant­ing, as com­pared to the tall va­ri­eties which pro­duce ma­ture nuts af­ter six years. The dwarf also pro­duces more nuts/bunch than the tall va­ri­eties. Due to this, the tall va­ri­eties are gen­er­ally planted at a pop­u­la­tion of 100125 plants while the dwarf va­ri­eties are planted at 175-200 plants/ha.

De­spite the gen­eral be­lief that tall va­ri­eties yield better than

dwarf va­ri­eties, the re­sults of the field tri­als at PCA-ZRC show that the re­verse is true. Data on yields over a ten year pe­riod col­lected by PCAZRC re­searchers from among the tall and dwarf va­ri­eties which were pro­vided with min­i­mum lev­els of fer­til­iza­tion showed that the co­pra yield of the tall va­ri­eties ranged from 1.2 to 3.0 tons/ ha per year while the yield of the dwarf va­ri­eties was a wide range, from 1.4 to 4.5 tons/ha per year. Many dwarf va­ri­eties are more pro­duc­tive than the tall va­ri­eties in terms of co­pra yield.

1. The out­stand­ing tall va­ri­eties: The out­stand­ing tall va­ri­eties in terms of yield in­clude the La­guna tall in South­ern Lu­zon, Bay­bay tall in the Visayas, and Tag­nanan tall in Min­danao. The PCA pub­li­ca­tion in­di­cates that Bay­bay tall was a La­guna tall se­lec­tion in­tro­duced from La­guna to Bay­bay, Leyte in the 1950s.

Com­mon among the tall va­ri­eties is the pro­duc­tion of big nuts weigh­ing more than one kilo­gram. The nuts are suit­able for the pro­duc­tion of co­pra, dessi­cated co­conut, and VCO. The big nuts are less suit­able for the pro­duc­tion of young nuts with coco wa­ter for ex­port. When the trees of the tall va­ri­eties be­come tall, they be­come less at­trac­tive for the co­conut su­gar pro­duc­tion.

2. The dwarf va­ri­eties: The com­mon fea­ture of the dwarf co­conut va­ri­eties is their early ma­tu­rity at 2 to 3 years af­ter field plant­ing. Some dwarf va­ri­eties like the MYD flower 18-20 months af­ter field plant­ing. This re­sults in early pro­duc­tion and in­come for the farm­ers. The size of these nuts is gen­er­ally small, less than a kilo­gram or kg/nut. The ex­cep­tion are the nuts pro­duced by both the Cati­gan and Ta­cu­nan va­ri­eties, which can grow to 1,120 grams or g to 1,350 g in less fer­tile soil, and over 1,500 g/nut in fer­tile soil. Ta­cu­nan and Cati­gan can be con­sid­ered to be among the out­stand­ing dwarf va­ri­eties due to their large num­ber of flow­ers of 17 or more/year; early ma­tu­rity (four years or less); and high co­pra yield of over four tons/ha per year un­der good agri­cul­tural man­age­ment prac­tices.

The per­for­mance of these two dwarf va­ri­eties are a world-class rar­ity due to their high yields as va­ri­eties. Be­tween the two, Ta­cu­nan is more adapt­able than the Cati­gan. The Cati­gan ex­hibits sea­sonal bear­ing

phe­nom­e­non in places with three or more months of dry pe­riod. Both Ta­cu­nan and Cati­gan are va­ri­eties suit­able for the pro­duc­tion of ma­ture nuts for co­pra, des­ic­cated co­conut, VCO, and other prod­ucts. Both va­ri­eties are also suit­able for co­conuts to be used in su­gar pro­duc­tion due to their high toddy yield and short stems; these qual­i­ties per­sist for a long time.

Some dwarf va­ri­eties like the MRD and MYD pro­duce small fruits of 600 to 900 g, and these are suit­able for mar­ket as young nuts with coco wa­ter. In In­done­sia and many other coun­tries, these va­ri­eties are widely used as back­yard land­scap­ing crops, al­though they are gen­er­ally grown in wide plan­ta­tions for the pro­duc­tion of young nuts for co­conut wa­ter, co­conut su­gar, and co­pra. The trees re­main dwarf for a long time. They also have high toddy yield, mak­ing both va­ri­eties more suit­able for coco su­gar pro­duc­tion than many tall va­ri­eties. Prob­a­bly the MRD and MYD are the most widely grown dwarf va­ri­eties in the world.

In Thai­land, “Nam Wan” and “Nam Hom” are the most pop­u­lar dwarf va­ri­eties. These are largely uti­lized for the pro­duc­tion of young nuts with co­conut wa­ter and soft meat or cotyle­don for food (Fig. 2). These two va­ri­eties are prob­a­bly the most widely traded co­conuts world­wide for co­conut wa­ter with young nuts. Both va­ri­eties are grown in in iso­lated farms in Thai­land, with their plots sit­u­ated 50 me­ters or more from other co­conut va­ri­eties to pre­vent cross pol­li­na­tion, which brings about prod­uct de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. Plants which are grown in low el­e­va­tions near the sea pro­duce the best qual­ity young nuts.

3. The hy­brids: Many plant fea­tures of the four hy­brids of PCA have sim­i­lar­i­ties with the dwarf va­ri­eties; they flower early and bear nuts within three years af­ter field plant­ing. They are high yield­ing, at three or more times the yield of the tra­di­tional tall and dwarf va­ri­eties. The au­thors’ ex­pe­ri­ence at TPFN farms and ob­ser­va­tions they made in Malaysia, In­dia, and In­done­sia showed that hy­brids like Matag and Mawa have shorter, com­pact, and more abun­dant leaves, sim­i­lar to the dwarf va­ri­eties. This make them highly suit­able for high den­sity plant­ing of 175-200 plants/ha; this re­sults in high yields.

The “Matag” hy­brid is a cross be­tween an MRD and Tag­nanan tall, with MRD serv­ing as the mother. The seedlings are very vig­or­ous (Fig. 3). They are ben­e­fit­ted by par­tial shad­ing dur­ing the first two years. This makes this hy­brid highly suit­able for re­plant­ing in ar­eas with tall and less pro­duc­tive co­conut trees, with de­lay in cut­ting. Cut­ting of the tall trees can be done when the Matag plants are two years old or are about to flower. This will cause a mi­nor dis­rup­tion in nut pro­duc­tion.

Matag hy­brid trees hy­brid pro­duce high toddy yields of six liters or more per day. The nuts pro­duced are of medium size, mak­ing the same highly suit­able for the com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of young nuts with co­conut wa­ter and soft meat for food. Pro­vided with ad­e­quate fer­til­izer and ap­pro­pri­ate cul­tural man­age­ment prac­tices, Matag can yield higher than five tons/ha per year. This makes this hy­brid highly suit­able for the pro­duc­tion of co­pra, dessi­cated co­conut, VCO and more.

Mawa, which is a cross be­tween the West African Tall (WAT) and MYD, pro­duces higher toddy yields for co­conut su­gar pro­duc­tion than Matag. It is the most de­sired hy­brid of farm­ers who are en­gaged in co­conut su­gar pro­duc­tion in South­ern Min­danao. How­ever, it has been ob­served that, in ar­eas with poor soil and/or low rain­fall, Mawa is sus­cep­ti­ble to phy­topthora dis­ease. This mal­ady is over­come by ad­e­quate fer­til­iza­tion and ir­ri­ga­tion. In Malaysia and In­dia, this dis­ease is prac­ti­cally ab­sent as the co­conut plants are pro­vided with ad­e­quate fer­til­iza­tion and ir­ri­ga­tion. Many of the ar­eas planted to hy­brids in In­dia have dry pe­ri­ods of four to seven months. Un­der these con­di­tions, the co­conut hy­brid trees are ir­ri­gated, which re­sults in higher yields.

Ta­ble 2 shows the yield data at the United Plan­ta­tion Ber­had (UPB) of Malaysia in the pro­duc­tion of Mawa, Matag, and Malayan Tall. These two hy­brids are grown on thou­sands of hectares at UPB, and can pro­duce co­pra as early as in the fourth year. High co­pra yield is at­tained when the hy­brids are six years and older.

OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES AND CHAL­LENGES The op­por­tu­nity for high in­comes from co­conut by pro­duc­ing high value prod­ucts is fast un­fold­ing. To­day, a co­conut farmer has the po­ten­tial to earn a mil­lion pe­sos/ha per year in co­conut farm­ing. The key is in the use of the right va­ri­ety or hy­brid cou­pled with ap­pro­pri­ate agri­cul­tural man­age­ment prac­tices to pro­duce the in­tended high value prod­ucts. There is an in­creas­ing world­wide de­mand for high value prod­ucts such as co­conut wa­ter, VCO, and co­conut su­gar.

Dave Lobo, a noted ex­pert on hy­brid co­conut pro­duc­tion, es­ti­mated the in­come of thou­sands of co­conut farm­ers in In­dia plant­ing high yield­ing hy­brids and us­ing mod­ern cul­tural man­age­ment prac­tices, in­clud­ing low-cost drift ir­ri­ga­tion. These farm­ers have been trans­formed; from hav­ing low in­comes, they have reached the mid­dle in­come level.

In Ta­ble 3, one can see that the pro­duc­tion of ma­ture nuts for des­ic­cated co­conut pro­vides an in­come of equiv­a­lent to R385,000/ ha per year. The pro­duc­tion of young co­conut for co­conut wa­ter and soft meat pro­vides an in­come of R650,000/ ha per year. The pro­duc­tion of coco ethanol, VCO, coco su­gar and neera, a spe­cial co­conut wine, pro­vides an in­come of over one mil­lion pe­sos/ha per year.

Among the great­est chal­lenges in co­conut farm­ing is how to de­velop a quick re­sponse to the dam­age caused by nat­u­ral calami­ties such as ty­phoons. For ex­am­ple, Typhoon Pablo to­tally dam­aged six mil­lion pro­duc­tive co­conut trees in the three towns of Davao Ori­en­tal in 2012. Typhoon Yolanda, in 2013, dam­aged al­most 20 mil­lion trees in the Visayas. Plant­ing ma­te­ri­als of va­ri­eties or hy­brids which are early ma­tur­ing could have made the re­cov­ery of the farm­ers faster.

Un­for­tu­nately, the seed­nuts were not avail­able. In­stead, seed­nuts of tall va­ri­eties with ma­tu­rity pe­ri­ods of over six years were dis­trib­uted to farm­ers. That is why, un­til now, the farm­ers have not re­cov­ered from the dam­age of the ty­phoons. It is hoped that when sim­i­lar calami­ties hap­pen again, the gov­ern­ment will have a better re­sponse. This can be done by estab­lish­ing com­mer­cial seed­nut farms of early ma­tur­ing va­ri­eties like the MRD, MYD, Ta­cu­nan, Cati­gan, and the hy­brids.

CON­CLU­SION To sum­ma­rize, two re­cent de­vel­op­ments in co­conut give farm­ers hopes for high in­comes. The first de­vel­op­ment in­volves the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of high yield­ing va­ri­eties (HYVs) and hy­brids for high co­conut yields four or more times the yields of tra­di­tional va­ri­eties. This as­sumes that the new HYVs and hy­brids are pro­vided with ad­e­quate cul­tural man­age­ment prac­tices, in­clud­ing ir­ri­ga­tion in ar­eas with pro­nounced dry pe­ri­ods, as is done in In­dia and other coun­tries.

The sec­ond break­through is the in­creas­ing de­mand for high value and high priced co­conut-based prod­ucts like co­conut su­gar, co­conut wa­ter, and VCO, which of­fer a wide range of nu­tri­tion and health ben­e­fits. Like­wise, there is a large de­mand for high value prod­ucts of co­conut, from coco husks and shells, which are not dis­cussed in this ar­ti­cle.

As ob­served in other coun­tries like In­dia, Brazil, Malaysia, and Thai­land, suc­cess in the uti­liza­tion of these break­throughs to ben­e­fit small­holder farm­ers re­quires both strong gov­ern­ment sup­port and private sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion. An ex­am­ple is the strong private sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion in the re­search and pro­duc­tion of hy­brid seeds of corn cou­pled with strong ex­ten­sion ser­vices. This led to the trans­for­ma­tion of the Philip­pines from an im­porter to an ex­porter of corn.

For co­conut, this has to go be­yond what the private sec­tor is do­ing in corn, and should in­clude the de­vel­op­ment of world-class high value co­conut prod­ucts for which there is a need and de­mand in the emerg­ing world mar­ket.

Fig. 1. A fruit­ing Ta­cu­nan va­ri­ety in a farmer’s field in La Paz, Agu­san del Sur at 4.5 (left) and 25 years old (right). Trees of this va­ri­ety flower within 3 years af­ter plant­ing and pro­duce 3 to 4 tons of co­pra/ha per year.

Fig. 2. The au­thor (in white shirt) with friends in front of com­mer­cially-pro­cessed Nam Hom and Nam Wan nuts at the auc­tion mar­ket of Thai­land.

Fig. 3. These eight month-old Matag hy­brid seedlings are being loaded at the TPFN nurs­ery for a field plant­ing ex­per­i­ment. These seedlings are very vig­or­ous, and when prop­erly cared for in the field, can pro­duce ma­ture nuts in just three years af­ter plant­ing.

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