Talking about Passions
It’s not hard to tell how much I’m in love with agriculture. But I am always stumped for an answer whenever I’m asked which crop I am most passionate about. After some thinking, I’ve finally concluded that there are only two crops that I’m truly in love: Cacao and coconuts
If I were to delve into cacao now, I think I’d be talking a yarn’s long tale, and unfortunately, I don’t have many photographs to share at the moment. Sadly, my photo bank of cacao got corrupted, but the good news is I am still able to go about taking more photos while working on my current research with the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB).
So for now, I will stick to my other favourite crop: Coconuts
The coconut is a wonderful agriculture crop, with nearly every part of the plant having some kind of use, whether it is for food, fibre, or medicinal applications. Polynesians have been using coconuts for nearly everything, from making clothing, to building houses, and even the construction of their well known sailing vessels with which they used to explore the many islands of their homeland. In Southeast Asia, coconuts are a key feature in daily life as well, and a great number of uses for the coconut have evolved over time. The most notable use, of course, is in the many mouth-watering savoury and sweet dishes.
Indeed, the coconut is such an integral part of the tropics, that it is very much the symbol of tropical paradise. As such, the coconut palm is a very common sight in most tropical coastal village areas, and can even be found in the compounds of some modern day town houses. It is easy crop to grow in the tropics, and is very a productive plant, producing up to 10 coconuts per stand each month when well tended.
However, despite its close relationship with human civilizations in the tropics and being an important food crop in island nations of the South Pacific, the coconut, also known as the “Tree of Life”, has fallen in favour as an agriculture crop. The sad fact remain that compared to many other commodity crops, the coconut isn’t as lucrative or profitable as say the oil palm (although this is argumentative). Nonetheless, demand for coconut is starting to pick up once again. This stems from it being regarded as a high value “health food” of sort, especially the coconut water from the young tender nuts.
In the course of my previous job as a plant breeder, I had the opportunity to work closely with coconuts. The company I worked with is a major coconut producer in Malaysia, being involved in the cultivation of coconut since 1912. From only 3% of the total area under plantation agriculture in Malaysia, this company produces some 87 million coconuts annually, or an equivalent to nearly 22% of the country’s total coconut production.
This of course meant that the company is always at the forefront of coconut technologies, including the utilization of superior yielding coconut strains. Two varieties are featured heavily in the company, which are the MATAG and MAWA hybrid coconuts. Brief (approximate) yield profiles of both varieties under Malaysian conditions are shown as follows:
The yield profile of the two varieties featured above is about 5 times the national average of coconut production in Malaysia. With wholesale prices of fresh (unprocessed) tender coconuts ranging anywhere between RM0.50 – RM1.00 per nut, a well tended coconut plantation (1 ha) can provide revenue of between RM11,925 – RM23,850 a year. The retail value of processed tender coconuts is about 3 times as much. As can be seen, with good agriculture practices, and the use of good cultivars, the coconut can be a very lucrative agriculture crop.
Here are some photographs of coconuts taken during the National Coconut Conference (2009). Some of these are local Malaysian varieties (as indicated), while most of them are international cultivars:
Aromatic Green (Pandan)
Other photographs of coconuts:
A young MATAG coconut palm (approx. 6 years old)
A young MAWA coconut palm (approx. 6 years old)
Malayan Yellow Dwarf coconut palm
Malayan Red Dwarf coconut palm
The premium tender coconut variety, Aromatic Green Dwarf (aka Pandan Coconut)
A well planted coconut plantation
Dud nuts (due to aborted pollination)