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11/14/2013 03:26 pm ET

As Coconut Demand Skyrockets, Why Has Production Struggled To Keep Up?

Judith Haeusler via Getty Images

From Mother Nature Network's Anna Norris:

Are coconut fans ruining a good thing? With the rising popularity of coconut-based health and beauty products, the demand for coconuts has skyrocketed — and producers might not be able to keep up.

Apparently, aging trees in coconut-producing countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and India are simply past their prime.

Today's coconut trees were planted more than 50 years ago, according to Hiroyuki Konoma, the regional representative for Asia and the Pacific at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. That puts them 20-plus years past their peak production time.

We're talking billions of coconuts here. India produces about 16 billion coconuts a year for domestic use alone, according to the FAO, and more than $1 billion worth of coconuts are exported from the Philippines annually to the U.S. And yet, production growth is 8 percent behind demand growth.

Not all is lost, however. More than a dozen countries from Asia and the Pacific gathered in Bangkok on Nov. 1 to discuss plans to rehabilitate the coconut industry. With the right replanting initiatives, the industry could recover "within a few years," according to Romulo Arancon, the executive director of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community.

It's not as simple as just planting more trees. An article from the FAO stressed that "technical and financial assistance would be needed" to plant the estimated 1.1 million acres in Indonesia alone, while producers — mostly small-scale farmers — are looking for ways to improve yield, including using hybrid varieties of seeds.

Recovering the coconut tree population has important implications for the farmers who rely on them as well as the coastlines they protect, the FAO emphasized. If production falls by the wayside, the effects could be devastating — way beyond the coconut-crazy consumers abroad.

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