The Real Cost of Coconuts

Written by on May 22, 2014 in Green, Measure Impact, World - No comments

800px-Kokosnuss-CoconutCoconuts are in high demand! They are having a revival at the moment, due to reporting on their health benefits. Coconut water is doing particularly well in the U.S. because both sports recovery drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters are well-established—much more so than in other countries—meaning that people already buy into the benefits. Sales of the product have also been helped by its rapid take-up among celebrities and high-profile investments from beverage companies. Yet where are all these coconut products coming from and how are growers keeping pace with exploding market? And crucially, are these producers actually benefiting from this trend?

Sadly, the answer to this latter question is “no.” According to Fair Trade USA, coconut farmers make around $7,000 U.S. a year at the upper end of the scale, while at the lower end, they make as little as $72. So, to put these figures into context, a grower at the bottom of that income range would have to save up for over a year to buy a 24-pack of coconut water sourced from his or her own produce!

The average serving of coconut water sells for $1.50, and the high-end stuff can be even more expensive, yet unfairly the coconut farmers see a very small portion of that money. In the biggest coconut-producing countries, they’re some of the poorest people. The world’s coconut supply comes from communities as far away as Brazil and Sri Lanka, though the two largest producers are Indonesia and the Philippines. Sixty percent of coconut growers in the Philippines live in poverty, and the conditions in Indonesia aren’t that much better.

Many of these farmers live in very remote areas where they may not have information about what kind of prices they should be getting. The majority are small holders who harvest coconuts and sell them whole to processors. Hence, they’re not necessarily seeing all the different products that come from their yield of coconuts.

However, there is a way that coconut growers can benefit from the booming popularity of their crops. With increased consumption comes increased scrutiny, and organisations like Fair Trade USA are now involved, giving consumers the opportunity to vote with their bucks for brands that commit to fairness for the people behind the products. Shoppers can do something, as by buying products that are certified as fair trade, they are empowering the farmers.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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