In Nigeria’s bold bid to diversify its economic base from crude oil to agriculture, one economically viable plant to consider is Cocos Nucifera. That is the coconut palm of the family Arecaceae. It is cultivated extensively, mostly in tropical areas for its edible fruit, the coconut. The term “coconut” can refer to the whole coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which botanically is a drupe, not a nut.
On the immense nutritional benefits, its oil encourages fat burning, works as a quick source of energy, equipped with antimicrobial effects, and helps to reduce hunger. Others include helping to reduce seizures, boosting skin health, protecting your hair, and improving improve oral health. That is according to Ariane Lang, a world-renowned nutritionist.
When it comes to coconut water, it is a good source of several nutrients with antioxidant properties, helping to lower blood sugar for people living with diabetes and prevents kidney stones. Also significant is that it supports heart health, and it is recommended for athletes as a beneficial drink after prolonged exercise as it is a delicious source of hydration. One can therefore, understand the increasing demand for coconut products, including the popular coconut bread in Lagos.
According to Wikipedia: “In the modern consumer market, the outer shell of coconut fruit or coconut husk is used to produce a number of important products. It is used to make coco husk chips, coco peat, coir fiber, and coco crush. It is the best natural organic growing medium in the world. Coir, also called coconut fibre, is a natural fibre extracted from the outer husk of coconut and used in products such as floor mats, doormats, brushes, and mattresses. Coir is the fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut”.
Well aware of these huge benefits, countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines lead the world production with 17.13 and 14.77 million metric tons. India and Sri Lanka follow with 14.68mmt and 2.47mmt respectively.
In Nigeria, coconut is produced in about 22 states with Lagos leading, where about 70 percent of national output comes from. Other states include Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Rivers and Taraba. In fact, Nigeria stands to earn over N20b yearly from coconut, derivatives where a 10 hectare farmland of hybrid coconut can earn revenue of between N16 million – N20 million annually for the next 30-60 years. That is depending on the variety of the coconut planted.
Currently in Nigeria, coconut business has become profitable which could be through reselling or packaging. And it is readily available. It is therefore, noteworthy that the pragmatic Governor Sanwo-Olu-led Lagos State government in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, has begun the rehabilitation of its coconut belt. The aim is to ensure the sustainable production of coconut seedlings for the cultivation of at least N10 million coconut tress by 2024 with transaction worth of over N240 billion annually.
According to Dapo Olakulehin, the general manager, Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), the coconut value chain has recorded over 500 percent increase in processing rate in 2021. The increase has influenced the huge demand for importation of coconut seedlings from other neighboring countries in West Africa.He said that the coconut production had been on increase since 2014 by about 2.5 per cent. Indeed, about 300 products can be derived from coconut and each can be a stand-alone industry with the value chain becoming a fast-growing industry.
Good enough, Lagos has more than 2,000 processors. They demand for coconut on daily basis but the farmers cannot meet up with the processing needs for coconut oil, art and craft, coconut bread and other products, as produced by the cottage industries. Unfortunately, Nigeria is spending a lot of money on coconut importation.
According to Olakunlehin: “In 2016, Nigeria produced 283,774 metric tons of coconut and this increased to 288,615 mmt in 2018.By the nature of coconut, it has a long gestation period, about four to five years. A coconut tree will start production massively in its fifth year. So, what is the way forward?
It has become patently obvious that there has to be a well- articulated plan by the states producing coconut to increase cultivation and value addition to for agro-economic and social development. Interestingly, this is the position of the Director-General of the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim. He noted that the global coconut bye-product market sizeis expected to reach $95.64 billion by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. It is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 17.8% during the forecast period.
In 2019, Indonesia was the largest exporter of coconuts in the world, followed by Thailand and Viet Nam. The three countries held about 23 percent share of total exports, while Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Guyana and India, all together, made up 17 percent of the total exports.
Another entrepreneur and coconut production investor, John-Bede Antonio, said several thousands of youths could be profitably employed if each state could devote at least 100,000 hectares of land for cultivation, apart from income and export benefits.
According to the MD, LASCODA the Lagos State government was investing massively in reviving its coconut plantations as well as supporting coconut growers with hybrid seedlings with short gestation period. Said he: “The Lagos state government is doing a lot in the coconut value chain, in 2019, Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu directed the release of more than 140,000 seedlings to coconut growers across the state which we did.
“In 2020, the government also directed the sale of coconut seedlings at highly subsidised price to farmers and we sold close to 500,000 seedlings at highly subsidised price.
“A coconut seedling costs about N2,500 but we were selling it at N500 to our farmers in 2020, it was highly subsidized. The Lagos State government is doing a lot with the recent $200,000 Unilateral Trust Fund Agreement (UTF) for development of coconut value chain between the state government and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO-UN).
In all of these laudable policies and programs, what has become imperative is for Nigerian farmers to focus on the cultivation of modern, early-maturing, disease-resistant and bumper harvest yielding hybrid seedlings. The private sector should invest heavily in providing top-notch machineries to facilitate the processes required to boost the value chain. On the part of the government, the CBN Anchor Program should come in handy with the needed funds in this regard. This should be in addition to the provision of stable power supply, good access roads, a safer farming environment, and the training and retraining of young Nigerians for sustainable capacity building in this emerging economic boom.