Producing over 92 million nuts annually, Guyana’s coconut industry not only has a firm hold on the title of being the country’s leading non-traditional export crop. In fact, with its impressive performance, it is poised to accelerate the country’s Gross Domestic Product by 20 percent over the next few years. This is according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The increasing importance of coconut was represented with the increased production from 10,725 metric tonnes (mt) in 2011 to 17,104 mt in 2012. Additionally, 2012 showed an increase in coconut exports, recording in excess of US$ 2.4M of coconut and coconut products. This trend has remained steady up to 2014.
The demand for coconuts (Cocosnucifera) is very high in Guyana since it can be used in fuel, food, and feed. These crops are also treated with much significance, given the fact that it can help to reduce Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, two of the leading non-communicable health problems in the Caribbean.
But this rich tasting crop also provides other products such as coconut oil, coconut water, coconut kernel and coconut milk which are in demand internationally and regionally.
Coconuts are also in high demand given the fact that its oil possesses saturated fat, but one that is unique, healthy and different from most other fats. Coconut oil can not only be used to prepare food, but it is also used in the process of making medicine. It has even been described as “the healthiest oil on earth”.
Some products that are made locally using the various components of coconut include roofing tiles made from the husk, extra virgin coconut oil, coconut based wine, coconut butter, coconut flakes, ornaments, jewelry, and kitchen utensils.
This versatile crop is cultivated extensively along Guyana’s coastal regions, mainly along the Pomeroon River, the Essequibo Coast, East Demerara, West Berbice and on the Corentyne Coast.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the assessed area under production is 24,000 hectares.Based its acreage for cultivation, this places coconut at the third place position behind rice and sugar.
With the billions of dollars this industry is raking in annually, the prospects for continued success for farmers in this sector is quite promising as more lucrative markets continue to be opened up in the Caribbean Region.
But even with this much success, the true wealth of this industry is still to be truly and fully realized, particularly as it relates to productive efficiency and high value added products that use coconut as their base.
One of the most important export based products from these nuts is, crude coconut oil, the main destinations of which include CARICOM countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Lucia. Trinidad and Tobago utilizes approximately 90% of copra exports otherwise known as dried coconuts.
Further, the Pomeroon Oil Mill, National Edible Oils and Fats Incorporated and the Maharaja Oil mill are the main oil extraction mills in Guyana and for these companies to reach their production targets, they would need approximately 16,500 tonnes (36.376 million lbs) of copra annually.
With the potential and bountiful financial yields that can be had from this industry, stakeholders locally and regionally have been teaming up to develop concrete and constructive ways in which the sector can be enhanced.
The former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, has been calling for the industry to be driven by research so that a clear roadmap for its success can be had. The government has also made significant moves to effect this process.
But another product is also creating quite a stir on the international markets and that is none other than—Coconut water. It has become such a great deal that the importation of coconut water in the United States has moved from an irrelevant figure 10 years ago, to becoming a US$500 million industry, alongside some of the leading players including Pepsi.
Trinidad and Tobago is already a huge importer of the Guyanese coconut water but Europe has also expressed interested in this product. In 2013, a European group proposed for Guyana to supply them with 32,000 litres of coconut water on a weekly basis, for the purpose of supplying supermarkets there.
Guyana’s Agriculture Minister had deemed this to be a favourable sign for the industry as he had pointed out that it would also contribute to the overall growth of the sector, especially since it was made clear that this initial order could see an increase.
He had said that what is even more beneficial to local farmers and agro-processors is the fact that the group does not want the coconut water supplied in tankers, but wants it to be bottled in Guyana.
But to supply this demand, Dr. Ramsammy had informed that the industry has to be expanded and with new plantations still being cultivated, stocks would be ready within two years.
Further, Phoenix Enterprises Guyana, has been the pioneer of bottled water in Guyana and others have joined in this profitable venture.
But outside of coconut water, the road is being paved for the development of virgin coconut oil for the international market. But even the local demand for this is already so high that the amount produced, is quickly consumed.