General Information and Agronomic Aspects
Coconut palms Cocos nucifera L. (French.: cocotier; Spanish.: cocotero) originate from Melanesia. South East Asia is still an important cultivation region today. The coconut is a monocotyledon plant, and can therefore only proliferate via seeds. It can produce an inflorescence on each leaf axil, which can then have either male or female blossoms. These are formed on the side, so that generally, the coco palm is cross-fertilised by a variety of bee species, other insects and the wind. Coconut palms live to an average age of 60 years old.
The coconut palm is an important tree in most tropical islands and along the coastal regions of tropical Africa. It is a multipurpose tree. Every part of the coconut palm can be used. The juice from the inflorescence, which can contain up to 15% sugar, is used to make palm-wine. Half-ripened nuts (6-7 months old) are often eaten fresh. The juice can be drunk, and milk is squeezed out of the meat (endosperm). Fully ripened nuts (after 11-12 months) provide the so-called copra, which is made from the firm meat of the nut.
Copra is high in oil and protein content (65% oil, 25% protein). Coconut oil is produced from drying and pressing the copra. Grated coconut is made from fresh copra. The hard coconut shells are used to make charcoal. When they have been finely grated, coconut shells are used as fillers for objects made of plastic, such as buttons, containers and other objects. Coconut fibres are used in the upholstery industry, to make ropes, as mulching material or as a substitute for peat. The leaves and wood are used as building material and to make household objects (e.g. baskets, brooms) and tools.
Nutritive Value per 100 g of edible Portion
|Raw or Cooked Coconut||
Energy (Calories / %Daily Value*)
|Carbohydrates (g / %DV)||Fat (g / %DV)||Protein (g / %DV)||Calcium (g / %DV)||Phosphorus (mg / %DV)||Iron (mg / %DV)||Potassium (mg / %DV)||Vitamin A (I.U)||Vitamin C (I.U)||Vitamin B 6 (I.U)||Vitamin B 12 (I.U)||Thiamine (mg / %DV)||Riboflavin (mg / %DV)||Ash (g / %DV)|
|Coconut meat dried||660 / 33%||23.7 / 8%||64.5 / 99%||6.9 / 14%||26.0 / 3%||206 / 21%||3.3 / 18%||543 / 16%||0.0 IU / 0%||1.5 / 2%||0.3 / 15%||0.0 / 0%||0.1 / 4%||0.1 / 6%||1.9|
|Coconut meat raw||354 / 18%||15.2 / 5%||33.5 / 52%||3.3 / 7%||14.0 / 1%||113 / 11%||2.4 / 13%||356 / 10%||0.0 IU / 0%||3.3 / 5%||0.1 / 3%||0.0 / 0%||0.1 / 4%||0.0 / 1%||1.0|
|Coconut water||19.0 / 1%||3.7 / 1%||0.2 / 0%||0.7 / 1%||24.0 / 2%||20.0 / 2%||0.3 / 2%||250 / 7%||0.0 IU / 0%||2.4 / 4%||0.0 / 2%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 2%||0.1 / 3%||0.4|
|Coconut milk raw||230 / 12%||5.5 / 2%||23.8 / 37%||2.3 / 5%||16.0 / 2%||100.0 / 10%||1.6 / 9%||263 / 8%||0.0 IU / 0%||2.8 / 5%||0.0 / 2%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 2%||0.0 / 0%||0.7|
|Coconut Vegetable Oil||862 / 43%||0.0 / 0%||100.0 / 154%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 IU / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0 / 0%||0.0|
*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower, depending on your calorie needs.
Climatic conditions, soil and water management
Coconut needs a continuous supply of water, which can be provided by regular rainfall of about 1250 mm per annum, or from ground water (at a depth of 1-3 m). It can not tolerate water logging. The northern Kenya coast receives only a rainfall of 750-1000 mm and this restricts production. Coconut grows best at average temperatures of around 26-27degC. Because of its temperature requirements, the coconut palm cannot normally grow above 750 m. However, near to the equator and in areas where other conditions are favourable for coconut development, it is possible to grow the crop up to about 1300 m. Growth is stimulated by a sufficient supply of chlorine in the soil. The coconut palm can withstand up to 1% salt in the soil.
These conditions are generally found in tropical and subtropical coastal regions with little rainfall. Coconut palms can also grow on deep, water-logging free, alluvial soil, away from the coast - yet low chlorine content in the soil could have negative effects. Consider these conditions when choosing a site.
Depending on the site, coconut palms can be cultivated on agroforestry systems. As a plant of the upper storey, with essential light requirements, the coconut palm towers above such crops as citrus, cacao and others.
Propagation and planting
The quality of the seeds is important for the forthcoming yield from the palm. For this reason, the seeds should originate from a healthy, productive stock plant. Usually, the seedlings are raised in state and private tree nurseries. If no tree nursery can be found which comply with the requirements of organic cultivation, then the seedlings will have to be raised on the site.
Two different main groups are cultivated in the commercial sector: the tall plants of the Typica group, which generally need to be cross-fertilised, and dwarf types of the Nana group, where self-pollination is the norm. Tall varieties should always be chosen for agroforestry systems, because they can reach up to the upper levels intended for them, and thus fully develop. Dwarf palms grow very slowly, and are easily overshadowed in the system, hindering their full development. In addition, the Nana variety reacts more sensitively to drought and some diseases than Typica varieties.
Three distinct types grow in Kenya: the "East African tall", the "Pemba Dwarf" and hybrids. The following hybrids have been introduced to increase yields and quality of coconut in Kenya:
- "PB 121" ("Malayan Yellow Dwarf" x "West African Tall")"
- A72" ("Green Dwarf" x "West African Tall")
- "Tahiti Tall" x "West African Dwarf"
- "Yellow Dwarf" x "Tahiti Tall"
- "Reussell Tall" x "West African Tall"
The hybrid "PB 121" has shown to be particularly high yielding (Griesbach, 1992).
Before sowing, the nuts are sorted; use only those nuts containing water. Cut away the shell on the germinating side of the nut to facilitate germination, and soak the nuts in water for 14 days, before sowing them in loose soil that can drain easily. Lay the nuts lengthways in the soil with the upper side visible. Sow nuts in nursery beds at a distance of 45 cm. Use coconut fibres as mulching material between the rows leaving the planting area uncovered. On smallholdings, the nuts are often merely set out in shaded areas, lightly dug in, and then covered over with organic material.
Nuts usually begin to germinate after 12 weeks in the nursery beds. There, they require no additional fertiliser, as the endosperm provides them with sufficient nutrients. When the seedlings are planted in beds dry season, then the beds need to be irrigated 2 times a week with around 5 l water/m2. Select the strongest seedlings after the 5th month and label them for transplanting. Around 20-40 % of the seedlings will be unusable. Suitable seedlings germinate earlier, and have thicker leaf bases. Early leaf-development is a sure sign of a strong plant. Transplant seedlings after 9-10 months, by that time they should have developed 4-5 fully opened leaves. Remove seedlings from the nursery beds, shorten their roots, and plant again as soon as possible.
The distances between the plants should be between 7.5 x 7.5 m and 6 x 9 m, depending on the cultivation method used and the other crops being grown, or similar distances resulting in an average density of 150-180 trees/ha. The recommended normal spacing for tall hybrids is 8 x 8 m or 9 x 9m, and for dwarf hybrids 7 x 7 m. The planting holes should be about 60 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter. The planting hole should be dug at least 1 month before planting and immediately filled with a mixture of topsoil, wood ash and well-rotted manure which is allowed to settle. Transplanting should be done at the beginning of the rains. Place the plant in the hole about 30 cm below the soil level. Fill the remaining space in the hole gradually as the palm becomes bigger. By using this planting method the palms are less susceptible to drought. This method should not be used when the ground water is relatively high. The nut should be earthed up only to the collar of the shoot to avoid soil entering the leaf axils. The young seedlings need to be protected from animals (cattle and other livestock).
Organic coconut cultivation does not allow for monocropping. Existing plantations can be improved by sowing at least 1 bottom crop of plants that offer ground coverage. Legumes can be planted here as green fertilisers. In multi-level agroforestry systems, cacao, bananas, pineapples and many other crops can be used. Spices such as ginger and turmeric also thrive under palms. If animals are kept, fodder crops should be integrated in a crop rotation system underneath the coconut palms.
If possible large plants should be used from the nursery beds when setting up agroforestry systems including coconut palms. This applies not only to coconut palms, but also to all types of palms integrated within agroforestry systems. Coconut palms will grow on any sites that are suitable for cacao, bananas, citrus (oranges) or papaya. On citrus plantations, a slightly lower density should be used (120-150 plants/ha) than for cacao (150-180 plants/ha).Three phases can be identified in the development (life cycle of the coconut palm) of the crop:
|Life cycle||Shade||Mixed crops|
|1st phase: up to 8th year||A full frond will only have developed after 8 years; during this time, only partial shade is available||Cultivation of annual crops possible.|
|2nd phase: from 8-25th year||Comparatively large amount of shade||Cultivation of shade-tolerant varieties|
|3rd phase: older than 25 years||Shade reaching to the ground diminishes as trees attain full height||High amounts of sunlight allows cultivation of plants needing lots of light.|
Nutrient supply and organic fertilisation
The level of nutrient extraction on a coconut palms/mixed crop system can be balanced by encouraging the decomposition of organic material that is made available, e.g. through mulching material, green fertiliser and tree trimming. A dense crop of legumes or use of other plants providing ground coverage as bottom crops, and which are regularly supplied with mulching material, will provide a sufficient supply of nitrogen for the plants. It is important to take care that all harvest and processing residues, such as coco fibres and press-cakes from the oil-extraction process, are returned to the plantation. This also applies to the potassium-rich ash resulting from burning the coconut husks. If insufficient organic material is produced on the plantation, the deficit can be balanced by regularly adding compost.
The compost should be enriched with any wood ashes (or coconut husk ashes) that are available.The compost is spread out in a circle 3-5 m underneath the palms, and preferably covered over with coconut shell mulching material. The latter may be especially necessary in systems lacking enough additional vegetation.
A deficiency in potash will result in a large reduction of yield for coconut palms. The vast majority of the potassium is thereby contained in the fruit water of the coconuts. On cultivation systems which include cacao, returning the cacao shells to the site will supply sufficient potassium to balance out the extraction. The continual pruning of crops on diversified agroforestry systems provides an important source of nutrients (potassium).
When providing a nutrient supply to coconut palms, it should be noted that it can take up to 36 months before inflorescence begins. This means that measures to supply nutrients, or to counteract deficits or other morphological disturbances, will take 3 years before they have an effect on production.
Due to their symbiosis with endomycorrhizae fungi (phosphate supply), and their tolerance of soil salts (which are often harmful to the other crops), coconut palms, as well as other varieties of palms, have a beneficial effect on the growth of the other crops in an agroforestry system.
Keep area around the tree free of weeds. Coconut will suffer from too much competition from weeds and bush regrowth. Recommended weed control methods include slashing by hand or grazing by cattle. Avoid weeding with mechanical implements as these can damage the roots of the tree. The economic life of a coconut tree is about 25-30 years. After this period, the low producers, dead and diseased trees should be removed from the field and replaced with new seedlings.
The nuts ripen during the entire year. As a rule, a harvest is carried out every 1-2 months, when the ripened coconuts are harvested directly from the tree - farmers should not wait until the nuts fall from the tree. The nuts are fully ripened when the coconut water can be clearly heard sloshing against the inside when they are shaken. Harvesting too early can unfavourably affect the quality of the copra.
Stock plants that are suitable seed providers produce 100 nuts per year and up to 180 g copra per nut. In drier areas yields are usually 15-20 nuts/tree/year. Harvest fully-ripened nuts intended to provide seeds after 11-12 months. Cut down nuts and lower them carefully (e.g. by rope). Do not allow the nuts to fall down. Following the harvest, store nuts for a short break in a covered, well- ventilated place. (Naturland, 2000)
- Sun drying
Remove the husk first. Dry nuts on a clean surface to reduce moisture from 45% to 6%. In fine weather this takes about 5 days. Turn the pieces occasionally and cover them at night and in rainy weather.
- Kiln drying
Make a fire in the pit of the kiln. Use the coconut shells as fuel as they heat well and smoke little. Put the copra on a wire mesh platform over the fire and protect it from the rain. This takes about 4 days.
Information on Diseases
Biological methods of plant protection
In a balanced cultivation system, which includes middle and bottom crops, as well as nitrogen-fixing green manuring plants (legumes), diseases and pests requiring some form of control measures will rarely occur, especially when enough birds are present on the plantation. These are often present in multi-level cultivation systems (see diversification strategies above).
Most of the problems concerning disease and pests have the following causes:
- Cultivation in a monoculture, or with too few different varieties.
- Too little distance between species that grow to the same height; failure to trim agroforestry systems.
- Degenerated or poor soil, lacking organic material.
- Unsuitable sites (water-logging, too dry, soil not deep enough for roots).organic farming systems.
In most cases, the most effective cure is to alter the entire system of cultivation. If a system is not yet in a state of ecological equilibrium, bud rot or heart rot, caused by Phytophthora palmivora, can occur in all of the producing regions - where it is widely spread. In cases of heavy infestation with Phytophtora palmivora, harvest-losses can be lessened by using Bordeaux mixture, or any other copper-rich spraying preparations, which are permitted in organic farming systems.These measures should only be undertaken in cases of emergency. In less severe cases, removing any infested plants from the plantation will result in the infection being limited. Amongst the young trees in tree nurseries, an attack of termites may occur. The termites can be effectively combated by pouring a thin layer of sand from the soil over the exposed parts of the buried nuts. Young coconut palms are also susceptible to the rhinoceros beetle and coconut caterpillars. Pheromone traps have been successfully utilised in Sri Lanka against the rhinoceros beetle. In emergency cases, butterfly caterpillars can be regulated with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
The trunks of young seedlings are often protected against pests by painting them with tar. This is not allowed an organic plantations, and the black covering also causes the plants to heat up unnecessarily. An alternative is to paint the trees with a mixture of sulphur, soil and lime, (1 : 2 : 1) added together with water to make a thick paste. If necessary, the paste may need to be renewed, as rain will wash it off.
Coconut red weevil and Rhinocerus beetle only usually damage young palms, yet may also, in exceptional cases, cause damage to mature crops. In acute cases, they can be combated by closing the larvae tunnels, and with pheromone traps.
In coconut palm monocultures, rodents, and especially rats, can develop into a serious epidemic which is then difficult to bring under control again. Metal plates affixed to the trunks will effectively stop them from climbing up the trees.