By Rabindra Rooplall
The coconut industry in Guyana has been identified as one of the sectors with a large potential for further development, as over 7,000 tonnes were shipped last year.
Coconuts also dominated agriculture exports in 2011 and earned hundreds of millions of dollars, as the sector produces over 92 million nuts annually.
In Guyana the coconut already exists as one of the key non-traditional crops, since it can be used in fuel, food, and feed, while it delivers a wide variety of other products such as coconut oil, coconut water, coconut kernel and coconut milk which are in demand internationally and regionally.
Coconuts are grown widely on the coastal regions of Guyana, primarily along the Pomeroon River, the Essequibo Coast, East Demerara, West Berbice and on the Corentyne Coast.
The estimated area under production is 24,000 hectares with an average annual production of 92 million nuts. In Guyana, coconut (Cocos nucifera) ranks third after rice and sugar in terms of acreage cultivated.
Agriculture officials disclosed that some of the constraints that hamper the development of the industry are lack of fertilisation, limited local manufacturing and processing facilities, poor drainage, high and rising costs of production, marketing, and inadequate crop management and farming.
Farmers in the country’s coconut industry are currently benefiting from significantly increased prices, resulting from the availability of more lucrative markets in some Caribbean territories.
The industry has yet to reach its full potential, not only in terms of productive efficiency, but also with regards to the high value added products that use coconut as their base.
Crude coconut oil is the most important coconut-based export products. The main export destinations are CARICOM countries (Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Lucia), with Trinidad and Tobago absorbing around 90% of copra (dried coconuts) exports.
Officials recommend the following three areas of intervention to aid the development of the coconut industry in Guyana. (1) Increasing the productivity and production potential of Guyana’s existing coconut sector, (2) Assessing of the state of Guyana’s coconut oil industry and its future and considering possible support mechanisms, if deemed necessary; and Exploring other coconut derived products in terms of their value added and export potential.
In Guyana, the major oil extraction mills are the Pomeroon Oil Mill, National Edible Oils and Fats Incorporated and the Maharaja Oil mill.
According to the millers, the unavailability of copra meant that they have had to significantly reduce their production of crude coconut oil to a mere 2.5 million liters over several months.
Furthermore, their inability to meet their production targets may risk their market shares both domestically and overseas.
Reports reveal that in order for these companies to reach their production targets they require approximately 16,500 tonnes (36.376 million lbs) of copra annually. The current price paid for copra by these companies ranges between $30 and $32 per pound which, if accurate and comparable to international data, is far below the price paid for copra regionally and internationally.
Coconut oil may provide an important source of export earnings, even if it cannot easily compete with palm oil or soybean oil as vegetable cooking oil on the world market.
Agriculture is the most important productive sector for Guyana’s economy, accounting for approximately a 30 per cent of GDP.
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