Coconuts, like many other perennial agricultural economic crops, are low capital-intensive, easy-to-do and life-long sources of steady income if done commercially in a plantation system.
Varieties of coconuts
According to breeder Ramu Thampalayagowder, Assistant Director of Agriculture at Department of Agriculture, Government of Tamilnadu Chennai Area, India, there were basically two varieties of coconuts, tall and dwarf.
The tall coconut varieties start producing inflorescence in five to nine years after planting, whereas dwarf coconut varieties do produce inflorescence in two to three years after planting.
Explaining why the dwarf coconut varieties produce more fruits, Thampalayagowder said dwarf coconut produces leaves (fronds) and bunches in rapid succession that even the pollen produced in the successive bunches can fertilise the female flowers in the lower bunches in the same coconut tree.
"This is the reason why the dwarf coconut variety produces more nuts/fruits per tree per year; 40 fruits per bunch in 17 bunches under ideal conditions. These would give about 680 fruits/nuts per tree.
The average yield of tall coconut, he said, is 60 fruits/nuts per tree per year and it is in the range of 80 to 100 in some places.
The Indian breeder explained that "When dwarf coconut is bred with fertile and well performing tall coconut, the resulting hybrid possess characters of both the parents."
The characteristics of hybrid coconuts include early maturation, fruiting between two and four years, unlike five to nine years waiting period for the tall varieties; more kernel and oil content, the characters acquired from well performing tall coconut varieties; more number of bunches and fruits per tree yearly, characters acquired from dwarf varieties and life period of 40 to 50 years, acquired from tall coconut tree that lives up to 100 years.
Though hybrid coconuts produce fewer fruits, the fruits/nuts are bigger than those of the dwarf varieties.
Why investing in coconut plantations?
Most coconuts trees in Nigeria are the wild tall varieties that produce scanty fruits which are not adequate for direct consumption as food, let alone for industrial processing and expert.
A promoter of coconut plantation in Nigeria, who runs First African Coconut idea, Mr Anthonio John-Bede, said investigation in Lagos and other main cities reveal that Nigeria imports coconuts from Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, and that nothing is available for industrial or export purposes.
This, John-Bede said, is a strong reason for young and middle-aged Nigerians to invest in the business that can bring about life-long opportunities of stable and steady income to thousand of Nigerians; help build value chain around the coconut industry and create thousands of job opportunities for young Nigerians and women.
Economics of coconut farming
One hectare of land, that is about two and a half acres, will accommodate 200 trees of coconuts in low density plantations. In the high density plantations, about 280 to 300 trees are planted on one hectare of land, while 450-480 trees of coconuts are planted on one hectare in the ultra-high density plantations.
John-Bede, while explaining the economics of coconuts on one hectare of land using the low density population (200 trees per hectare), says fruiting and harvesting would start in the fourth year if hybrid varieties are planted.
Conservatively, each tree would produce about 200 coconuts in a year, and the nuts would increase as the trees mature in age, bearing fruits for no fewer than 60 years.
He said at least each nut would be sold at the rate of N80. This will generate an annual income of between N2.4 million and N3.2 million annually.
This income, he argued, would be augmented by arable crops such as potato, yam, beans and vegetables that could be intercropped with coconuts trees.
He described coconuts plantations as almost maintenance-free, compared with cocoa plantations which require all kinds of chemicals against fungi and bacterial diseases with intensive labour requirement.
The investment, he added, could take care of future pension income for those running individual businesses that are not pensionable; could take care of future school fees and child support; and could be used by the public and private entities to create employment and for re-forestation programmes.
"In-between coconuts trees spacing, sweet potato, vegetables, pineapples, pawpaw, oranges and coffee could be grown," he said.
To plant one hectare of land with coconuts would cost about N500,000, covering seedlings, logistics, planting, supervision and insurance coverage, excluding the cost of the land.
Affirming the agro-economic benefits of coconuts plantations, the acting Executive Director of the Nigeria Institute for Palm Research, Benin City, in Edo State, Dr Celestine Ikuenobe, said Nigerians have not maximized the business opportunities in coconut as an economic tree.
He too said conservatively, a coconut plantation of 200 trees, even with the poorest variety, would give the owner nothing less than N1.6 million in a year.
He urged Nigerians, especially in the South and coastal areas, to plant more coconuts in large numbers to maximize the economic potentialities of the tree crop.
John-Bede said coconuts are in high demand in the United States of America, presenting a huge opportunity for Nigerians to key into its production, commercialisation and exportation.