COCONUT: Ghana’s New ‘Cocoa’

Coconut being sold on the street of Accra

Accra, Ghana, March 13, 2019//-In a liberal competitive market with fluctuating demands relying on one primary export commodity is suicidal economically. Such is the case of Ghana which relies mainly on cocoa and therefore the need for serious diversification.

According to industry watchers the area the country can take a critical look is coconut production. Some see coconut as the new cocoa. The country should not concentrate only on cocoa production but also try coconut cultivation and must not only consider production but also value addition,

The coconut palm is the most important cash crop in the four coastal regions of Ghana (Greater Accra, Central, Volta and Western).

2011 figures at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture show that coconut production in Ghana is mainly in smallholdings (0.5-5.0 ha). Out of the annual national production of 224 million nuts, 179 million (80%) were produced by smallholders from an area of 36 000 hectares. Yields in smallholder farms were relatively low. Average yield per palm was estimated at 35 nuts per annum (5000 nuts/ha).

Research shows that coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a “functional food” because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.

For instance, the coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness.

In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.

In recent times modern medical science has unlocked the secrets to coconut’s amazing healing powers.

Stakeholders say what makes coconut farming more lucrative is that it does well when grown with other crops. According to experts the pressure of increasing population has prompted accelerated interest in methods for increasing agricultural production and income from unit area of land.

Intensification of cropping in areas planted with coconuts, in response to current market demands is a very promising step in this direction. Mono-cropping coconuts provide very low incomes for farmers even at optimum planting density. Clearly, coconut monocropping has a very low utilisation efficiency of agricultural land and even with varietal improvement is likely to remain so.

There is a large area of land beneath the canopy of coconut plantations available for the farmer to use. Diversifying the farming system by intercropping, that is, crops grown within established coconut stands, can improve the productivity of land and labour and provide the grower with an income until the plantation becomes productive.

Agriculturalists say intercropping takes advantage of the nature of the coconut tree’s canopy of fronds, and its rooting system. On average, 56% of solar radiation reaches the ground, although this varies with the age of the coconut stand, its planting density, and its alignment. A rectangular system, aligned in an E-W direction, allows more sunlight to reach the alleys between the rows of trees.

Over 80% of the active roots occur in the 25 – 60 cm soil layer in a 2 m radius around the palm, leaving 70-75% of the soil available for use by other crops.

Intercropping with perennial, short-term, or cover crops rarely affects the yield or growth of the coconut crop adversely. Practices such as weeding and fertilising the intercrops may also increase coconut yields. With widely spaced coconuts, i.e. above 7.6 m, intercropping is possible irrespective of the age of the palms. However, closely spaced palms, aged 8 – 25 years, are generally not suitable for inter- and mixed cropping. Mature plantations over 25 years old allow sufficient light to enter the understorey making conditions suitable for underplanting

The coconut intercropping system is based on the premise that the intercrop is beneficial to coconut production and productivity and that the income and efficiency of resource use including labour, land and input supplies from the integrated system is greater.

Coconut farmers can increase their profitability while reducing financial risks by adopting an integrated farming system that includes animals or intercrops.

All these scientifically researched facts make coconut farming attractive and business worthy. There is also ready market – local and international.

Last year in line with government’s efforts to improve agriculture and provide jobs the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) offered GHC600, 000 to the Coconut Producers and Exporters Association (COPEA) to enable the Association undertake large scale coconut production for both domestic and international markets.

The initiative, dubbed, Coconut Export Revitalisation Project, according to GEPA, had Central Region as a start up point with 60,000 wilt resistant hybrid seedlings.

Launching the project at Gomoa Odumasi in the Agona East District in the Central Region, GEPA’s CEO, Gifty Kekeli Klenam, observed that the venture offers prospects for value addition to coconuts for both local and external markets with opportunities for business and employment creation.

“GEPA is pursuing this vision diligently and have, as per our mandate, provided support to a number of agricultural value chains; pineapple, cashew, and now coconut. We are delighted to support this sector by starting with members of COPEA, based in the Central Region with seedlings worth GHS 600,000, for 1000 acres,” she said.

She emphasised that, “This tells us that this strategic investment will yield multiple effects for this initial support. We will over the next year extend this programme to cover farmers in the Western Region; replicating the model symbiotic partnership where the exporters offer technology transfer and market access to the smallholders”.

Additionally, in 2018, a Chinese company, Jiangsu Sanxin Environmental Protection Equipment Ltd, made moves to invest $200m in the production and processing of coconut into a viable commodity in Ghana.

The company, which had conducted feasibility studies and identified the Western Region as its preferred destination, was expected to build a plant for the production of coconut oil from copra and also process the pod of the fruit into activated carbon.

In a discussion with the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto in Beijing, China, the General Manager of the company, Madam Angel Zhu, explained that officials of the company were in Ghana to explore the potential of coconut and found investing in the project viable.

She expressed the belief that when the project became a reality, the company would recruit its workforce from within the operational zone and thereby contribute to reducing the unemployment rate in the country.

Madam Zhu pledged to make coconut a sought-for commodity, adding that many more farmers might have to go into the production of coconut to meet her company’s demand when the project came into being.

On his part Dr Akoto explained that in the past the crop was virtually wiped out by the wilt disease, but the country had been able to get a variety that was resistant to the disease and had a high yield with an early maturity period.

The stakes are high and viable so the government should not relent in its efforts to put in place necessary measures and incentives to attract more people, especially, the youth into the production of what seems to be the crop of the moment – coconut.

By Oppong Baah, African Eye Report

 

 

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