“We don’t have enough coconuts to do the kind of processing we are talking about, even for coconut water, because you are finding that the people are not allowing the nuts to mature properly before they harvest them for coconut water because the demand in that market is so great”
Regional Coordinator of the fouryear Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean project, Dr Compton Paul, commenting on the status of the Caribbean Coconut Industry
Jamaica and the Caribbean, we have a very SERIOUS problem.
Jamaica and the Caribbean is running out (Serju, 2016, June 3) of coconuts. Oddly, the demand for coconut product is now rising, thanks to the booming Health Food Sector (Deer, 2016, January 3) that even Grace Kennedy is benefitting.
This was the conclusion of the various small farmers, processors, researchers and technicians who met at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston to discuss various aspects of the Coconut Industry. They also shared technical information on the following topics:
- Nursery and seedling management
- Varietal selection
- Hybridisation and tissueculture production
This call to arms is necessary, as Jamaica is missing out on a US$550 million per annum market for coconut products such as coconut oil and coconut water, with demand set to explode by 2020, to quote plant pathologist at the Coconut Industry Board, Dr Wayne Myrie: “The coconut water industry in the United States is valued at about US$550 million per annum. It is projected to grow to US$4 billion by 2019. We have just managed to get a very tiny percentage of that market. I can’t give you the exact figure, but a very tiny percentage”.
This includes the EU, who are also falling in love with coconuts as a natural product, with an import demand of €550 million worth of palm and coconut per annum, of which we can only manage less than 1% of that demand with €28,000 worth of export to the EU, to quote Dr Wayne Myrie: “The European Union, at the moment, is importing €550 million worth of palm and coconut each year. CARIFORUM countries just managed to export €28,000 to the EU, so the potential for the growth of this industry is tremendous”.
This is a combined total market of US$1.174 billion (JA$146.9 billion) that the Caribbean is missing out because of our current problems with producing coconuts.
So what exactly is causing the coconuts to die off?
Coconuts are dying – Lethal Yellowing spread by Bad Farming practices
The main culprit is the Lethal Yellowing disease (Brown, 2012, February 3), which has been affecting Jamaica since (Deer, 2016, January 3) 1981.
The disease, which is basically cause by a phytoplasma. Phytoplasmas are specialized bacteria that use sap sucking aphids and other parasites as vectors to infect plant phloem tissue.
Prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, these bacteria typically have no cellular wall or filamentous structure and are less than 1 μm in diameter. They have very small genomes and have thus far resisted any attempts to be cultured in artificial medium. As bacterial pathogens, they tend to affect plants typically:
Phytoplasm are a very different type of pathogen from Fusarium Oxysporum that causes Panama Disease which affects bananas (Deer, 2016, January 3), spreads in a similar manner; via sap sucking aphids and other parasites.
Once it contaminates a field, Symptoms of the Lethal Yellowing Disease (Serju, 2011, November 12) appears as follows:
- Premature shedding of all fruits
- Blackening and death of all newly emerged and unopened inflorescences
- Yellowing of older and then younger leaves
- Root necrosis
- Collapse of the newly emerged leaf
- Soft rot with the crown
Eventually death of the healthy coconut plant is certain (Brown, 2012, February 3) within three (3) to six (6) months of the coconut plant showing symptoms of the disease.
To rid a field of the Lethal Yellowing Disease, the field have to be burnt and destroyed and abandoned. Any coconut trees and nuts also have to be burnt and destroyed and cannot be replanted, otherwise they’ll cause the disease to spread. Many Jamaican farmers do not practice this, choosing to sell the smaller, immature coconuts to unsuspecting people.
In the process, they allow insects to spread the phytoplasm that causes the Lethal Yellowing Disease, as it can not only travel is infected plants and nuts, but possibly from person to person on their clothes and their shoes. In so doing, the Lethal Yellowing Disease spread across Jamaica, resulting in the current devastation of the Coconut Industry (Brown, 2012, February 3) and our current state today since it first appeared in 1981.
So what can be done for the Jamaican and Caribbean Coconut Industry to recover?
EU and CARDI researching Lethal Yellowing Alternatives – Coconut Industry extinction by 2020
For one, a zero-tolerance approach needs to be taken by farmers with fields that are infected with Lethal Yellow Disease.
Fields need to be burnt, with all infected coconut plants, seedling and material that came in contact with the plants destroyed. Then the field need to be irradiated using a radioactive isotope (Deer, 2016, December 3) in order to kill any surviving phytoplasm and sap sucking aphids and insects that are vectors of the Lethal Yellowing disease.
Currently, a joint project between €3.5 million project between the EU (European Union) and CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and International) Trade Centre hopes to revive the Coconut Industry in nine (9) CARIFORUM countries. Aside from exchanging information on best practices for growing coconuts and dealing with the Lethal Yellowing Disease, they plan involves the introduction of disease-resistant coconut seedlings, which has been ongoing for the past two (2) years.
To quote regional Coordinator of the fouryear Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean project, Dr Compton Paul, this sill involve not only seedling but the use of tissue culture technology, quote: “As part of the … project, we are to deal with the production of highquality material not only seed nuts. It has also to deal with, first of all, the types of varieties that are in our countries and what we need to do to improve the varieties that we have either by seed nuts or by tissue culture”.
This means that they’ll have to use coconut material from parts of the world outside of the Caribbean that have developed a resistance to the Lethal Yellowing Disease and other invasive species (Deer, 2015, October 23) that are being tracked by NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) and the UNDP UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).
This is a very difficult task, as very few varieties of coconut exist that are resistant to Lethal Yellowing Disease, forcing them to look in Latin American and even further afield, to quote Dr Compton Paul: “We are looking at moving germ plasm from Mexico, South East Asia, Brazil, Africa wherever we can find improved germ plasm. We already sent some people to Mexico. We are [also] sending some people to Brazil to look at the varieties that are available there and how we can get those varieties into the Caribbean region”.
But unless such a Zero-tolerance approach is taken and GM (Genetically Modified) versions of the Coconut plant are developed, the Coconut Industry may be completely dead by the year 2020.
- Serju, C. (2011, November 12). Coconut Industry Board Working To Eradicate Lethal Yellowing Disease. Retrieved from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20111112/business/business2.html
- Brown, I. (2012, February 3). Race to stop lethal yellowing disease. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Race-to-stop-lethal-yellowing-disease_10683037
- Deer, L. (2015, October 23). NEPA and UNDP Jamaica Invasive Species Database – Why Jamaicans may be the Environment’s worst Enemy. Retrieved from http://mythoughtsontechnologyandjamaica.blogspot.com/2015/10/NEPA-UNDP-Jamaica-Invasive-Species-Database-JISD.html
- Deer, L. (2016, January 3). How Gracekennedy Aloe Vera sinkle Bibles the Americans Health Food market in 2016. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/gracekennedy-aloe-vera-american-health-drinks/
- Deer, L. (2016, January 3). How the Panama Disease can destroy Caribbean Banana Farming by 2020. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/how-the-panama-disease-can-destroy-caribbean-banana-farming-by-2020/
- Serju, C. (2016, June 3). Caribbean Running Out Of Coconuts. Retrieved from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20160603/caribbean-running-out-coconuts
- Deer, L. (2016, December 3). What is Radioactivity, Half-Life and Radioisotopes. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/what-is-radioactivity-half-life-and-radioisotopes/