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AEGING COCONUTS THREATEN LLIVELIHOODS



Livelihoods of millions in Asia-Pacific countries, including India, have been affected as ageing coconut trees in the region cannot produce enough to keep up with the world's rapidly growing demand. "Nearly 90 per cent of the world's coconuts and other products derived from coconut trees originate in this region, but the sector has problems and requires rehabilitation," said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO's assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific. As the ageing trees produce fewer coconuts and by-products, the livelihoods of millions are affected, experts at a meeting on coconuts organised by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said. Fifteen Asia-Pacific countries had gathered at the meeting here over the weekend to agree to a regional approach to rejuvenate the crop upon which millions rely. The experts stressed the need for replanting and rehabilitation of coconut trees, as many of the coconut trees alive today were planted 50-60 years ago following the end of World War II and well past their most productive years. Stressing the importance of coconut as an important crop, Thailand's Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Siriwat Kajornprasart noted that Thailand's coconut productivity was low and that most trees were old. "Our scientists have been working hard to increase productivity," he said. The Asia-Pacific region is the largest producer and exporter of coconut products. The sector is vital to the economies of many countries, particularly smaller, island states. India is the world's largest producer of coconuts, harvesting some 16 billion coconuts annually from nearly 2 million hectares. Indonesia and the Philippines produce 16 billion and 15 billion coconuts, respectively, for both domestic and export markets. Increasing demand for coconut products has prompted Thailand to diversify into a variety of export products such as virgin coconut oil and an aromatic hybrid coconut for coconut juice, which is also increasing in demand. While prompt action is needed to rehabilitate the sector in order to meet the growing demand and ensure small-holders benefit, Asia-Pacific's ageing population of coconut trees could be rejuvenated through a concerted programme of replanting, the experts stressed.

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