BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
For forty year old Boaz Kazungu, a coconut farmer at Matsangoni village in Kilifi County, the hundreds of coconut trees swaying gracefully in his five-acre farm are more than a source of cool breeze in the stinging heat.
They are his source of livelihood from which he has been feeding his family and earning a modest income.
From furniture to roofing, food and drinks, the coconut palm locally known as mnazi holds all the economic promise.
“I get an income of about Sh 30,000 a month from selling coconuts and their products. Though I supplement my income with cassava and maize, nazi(coconut) is my main cash crop,” says the father of six.
Karisa Chai, another coconut farmer from Kaloleni, Kilifi County, says value addition to the coconut products holds the key to increasing income from the Coastal wonder tree.
"Value addition through processing virgin coconut oil from the white fleshy kernel fetches about Sh350 a litre. Returns are better than just selling the fruits raw,”
Other farmers have also been mixing coconut oils with ingredients such as aloe or neem to make soaps and cosmetics, with 100g of body lotion selling for more than Sh 200.
As a matter of fact, the creation of the Kenya Coconut Development Authority (KCDA) seven years ago might be one of the key developments that could spur the economic fortunes of the coconut palm not only at the Coast but other parts of the country as well.
Value addition and the opening up of export markets are among the major areas KCDA needs to focus on in order to boost coconut farming along Kenya’s coastal region with better returns for local farmers.
"In the last few years, investors in value addition have set up processing units along the coastal region from Malindi, Kwale and Kilifi. Investors attracted by increased awareness are targeting virgin oil, copra oil, soap production and textiles," said a KCDA source.
Industry players have noted that Kenya has the potential to generate more than US$294m(Sh 24 bn) from the coconut sub-sector with the widening of local and international markets.
Over 200,000 hactares of land are under the coconut crop in the country, 99 per cent from Coast region.
KCDA has been working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in mother palm identification for breeding new, better yielding varieties.
On the other hand, the authority has been working closely with the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) on research in virgin coconut oil.
An ongoing research in collaboration with the JKUAT in geo-textile shed nets will provide an insight into the use of coconut fibres in greenhouse technology. Research on development of locally fabricated coconut oil extraction machines has also been ongoing.
To increase awareness on the emerging coconut products, KCDA has been organising fielded days, documentaries, radio talks and road shows.
Participation in local and international expos has also widened the net globally seeking for foreign investments and exporters. Already investors have set up a coconut milk processing plant in Mazeras and a desiccation unit at Kaloleni to tap into the new opportunities.
According to a report titled Factors Affecting the Coconut Industry from Benefit
ting the Indigenous Communities of Kilifi County, Kenya By E.C Mwachiro and R.W Gakure published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, low prices of the coconut products, unclear legal framework, lack of proper markets, poor farming methods, low productivity and lack of financial support from
the government and financial institutions are some of the factors that hinder the indigenous communities from benefiting from the coconut products in the region.
“The de-listing of the coconut tree as a protected crop by the government in 1997, probably as a result of structural adjustments in the Agriculture sector, made the situation worse because the crop became virtually invisible,” the report says.
The report recommends that there is urgent need for proper pricing policies, proper markets, proper regulations particularly on the coconut palm wine and that appropriate planting materials be made available to the farmers at affordable prices.
Also the farmers should be organized into viable commercial groups with proper collecting centres for their products and financial assistance be provided, so that coconut production can also form part of the agriculture pillar towards the achievement of the vision 2030.
The coast region of Kenya has the potential for generating over Sh13 billion from coconuts against the current production worth Sh 3.2 billion.
More than Sh 500 million is required for the revitalisation of the coconut industry at the Coast in order to boost local income and economic development.
The Government plans to grow the sub- sector by 10 per cent yearly by supporting farmers to plant one million coconut seedlings annually.
This will be effected through the supply of early maturing, high – yielding and disease-tolerant coconut seedlings to farmers to boost production in the region.
This will enable the industry to earn the Exchequer Sh 25 billion, compared to the current Sh 6.4 billion a year.
The expansion of farms under coconut crop from the current 200,000 hectares to between 300,000 and 500,000 hectares will help generate more income for farmers.
The Coast region has the potential to produce more than the 170 million nuts .