The booming highway coconut water trade is taking a toll on the dried coconut business in Barbados with local local bakeries now said to turning to imports to meet their present demand.
One farmer told Barbados TODAY that the demand for green coconuts was so high that “the chances of finding a dry coconut on his one acre plantation in St Philip are about the same as finding gold.
“I might get up a Friday and tag the mature bunches which I want to sell to the vendors that week and the ones I want to hold back for another couple of weeks so that they could get jelly. [However] the buyers would come Saturday morning and buy the bunches that I want to sell and by noon they are back begging me to sell the ones I was holding back,” said Omar Pilgrim.
He also said it was proving more cost effective to sell his coconuts to street vendors than to supermarkets.
“When I used to sell dried coconuts to the supermarkets I had to pay someone to de-husk them, then I would get the same price from the supermarket as if I sold them green to the man on the street,” he explained.
However, the scarcity of dried coconuts is forcing some bakeries to import the essential raw material from neighboring islands.
Preferring to speak under the condition of anonymity, one bakery owner told Barbados TODAY that solution may be as simple as increasing the acreage for coconut cultivation.
He feared that unless the situation improves, the quality of baked goods produced could be compromised, as bakers would be forced to use grated coconut sparingly in pastries and bread.
This position was strongly supported by Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul, who argued that both components of the industry could coexist if more trees were planted.
“The truth is that we have a lot of land in this country that is just lying down idle and if we were to start to put a lot more of the arable land under coconuts that will solve the problem, because clearly there is a demand for them. We have a shortage of coconuts in the country to cater to our needs that is why I guess the bakeries have a problem. So we need to be growing more coconut trees,” said Paul.
However, the BAS boss decried the practice of importing dried coconuts, arguing that an opportunity exists for a homegrown solution to the problem.
“It speaks to the shortsightedness of people within the private sector and the lack of planning. Here is an opportunity for the development of an industry in terms of growing and instead of us sitting down together and seeing how can we promote more actively the planting of coconut trees, we are not only cutting them down, but we are taking scarce foreign exchange that we don’t have to import coconut. It does not make sense.
“We need more collaboration among the various elements of the private sector in terms of engaging in actions such as these, because all that is accomplished is bleeding foreign exchange, which we don’t have, while still not solving the problem, which is increased acreage,” Paul stressed.