Coconut is a tropical plant that can grow under any climatic condition, soil type and farming it plays a major role in the economy of many countries.
Although India, Indonesia and Philippine are the major producing countries in the world, experts said the tree could grow well in all states of Nigeria.
However, in the far northern states like Borno, Sokoto, Kastina, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi and Jigawa, irrigation must be used for coconut farming because of the short rainy season and dry conditions.
Dr. Olufemi Ojo, a renowned coconut farmer in Ogun State, advised farmers to go into coconut production this rainy season, adding that the tree is a long-time earning cash crop and as such secures one’s future.
According to him, tall coconut palms have longer economic lives than the short ones, usually about 60-80 years, adding that it can even live up to 100 years under favourable conditions.
More reasons farmers should embrace coconut farming
Mallam Isa Yunusa, a coconut farmer and dealer, said apart from the trees’ longer economic lives, coconut farming is simple and the nut has varied uses.
“The demand for coconut is high both locally and internationally and it allows you to do something else,” he said.
“As a farmer, you can be an employer of labour through coconut farming and you can also make more money by processing coconut into finished products,’’ he said.
How best to grow coconuts
Dr. Olufemi Ojo said the best soil for coconut farming is sandy-loam because it can hold and drain water.
He advised farmers to always bear in mind the number of years involved in growing the tree and therefore the land to be used should be the farmers’ personal land or land they can lease for about 60 years or more.
After clearing the land, the farmers said the next is the movement of coconut seedlings after a year from the nursery or when they show a minimum of 5-6 leaves and a girth of 10cm at the collar level. Early splitting of leaves, he added, is a good sign that the seedling is good.
According to him, coconut seedlings have nuts attached to them where they grow from.
“Put it in the hole like that and fill it up with soil mixed with dung and press or level the soil well to prevent waterlogging on the farm. Planting should start during the early rains, between April and early June,’’ he advised.
He said 7.5m×7.5m is the ideal spacing for coconut farming, adding however that farmers can choose any spacing that favoured him.
The farmer further advised that states in the far North should irrigate the plant in the dry season. This, he said, would increase nuts yields, adding that farmers should use drip irrigation, which was very effective.
“It will be wise to weed coconut plantation once the weed starts emerging and this should be done three to four times in a year,’’ he said.
He added that organic manure such as cow dung can be used to raise the farm, adding that in case of inorganic manure, a combination of urea, ammonia and potash is advisable.
Dr. Ojo said usually, coconut palm starts producing fruits five to seven years after planting, adding that the coconut itself takes seven to 12 months to mature from bud set.
“For drinking, it can be harvested at seven months and 12 months if the farmer plans to dry the coconut,’’ he advised.
Coconut value chain can fetch Nigeria billions
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Alhaji Sabo Nanono, had said Nigeria generated 150 million dollars from the export of coconut oil and its derivatives in 2020 alone.
He noted that coconut accounted for 10 per cent of the nation’s agricultural exports, adding that it was expected to generate more than 250 million dollars by 2021.
According to the minister, coconut provided the livelihood of more than 500,000 families, mostly women and youths in the country.
Mrs Nma Okoroji, President National Coconut Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NACOPPMAN), however, said about 80 per cent of the coconut value chain had not been tapped.
“It is an industry where over 80 per cent of its potentialities remain untapped. Only 20 per cent has been tapped, as we speak.
“In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the value chain generated millions of dollars through the export of coconut oil and its derivatives.
“Coconut remains a major non-oil export foreign exchange earner for the country. It is a product that has an inelastic value chain because every part of it is useful,” she said.
Okoroji advised government to channel more resources into the planting of more viable coconut trees during the 2021 National Tree Planting Day to create more awareness.
According to the NACOPPMAN president, coconut trees are best planted during the rainy season, urging more commitment on the part of the government.
She advised state governors to allocate more land to coconut farmers for the proposed 10,000 hectares of coconut plantation in the viable states in Nigeria.
“This is the rainy season and the best season to plant coconut tree is now.
“One hectare of coconut plantation employs 10 people. So when we establish 10,000 hectares in each state, we will create a lot of employment for our people,” she said.