a flourishing plantation
Coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a fruit native to Polynesia and almost all tropical regions, which belongs to the Arecaceae family. Coconut is the most cultivated palm tree worldwide and from which a greater variety of by- products is obtained, especially vegetable oil. The trunk of the coconut palm can grow up to 30 meters in height.
Coconut is characterized for being a fruit with smooth exterior skin, a fibrous layer with a hard cortex and interior meat approximately 1.2 centimeters thick, which surrounds a cavity partially filled with water. The ripe and gelatinous pulp, water, oil and coconut milk are the elements consumed from the fruit. Coconut is a very complete food since it is a source of important nutrients such as proteins, fibers, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamins B6, E, C, B1, B2, among others. However, coconut’s main characteristic is that it is a source of vegetable oil with a high level of saturated fatty acids, which if consumed in moderation can be beneficial for the body. It is also used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and for soaps that are recommended for skin care purposes.
It is believed that coconut originated in the Pacific coast, from where it extended to Central America and the Caribbean. Records provide evidence that coconut was already used 3,000 years ago in India and in 9th century China. Since the 16th century, Portuguese and Spanish voyagers introduced it to Africa and America. In Latin America, records are found regarding the existence of coconut in Panama in the year 1516. In Mexico, varieties from the Philippines were introduced in 1571; and in the Caribbean, the first coconut trees from Cape Verde were planted in Puerto Rico in 1625.
Coconut trees are typical of tropical regions. They require warm and humid climates without large temperature variations, which should remain close to 27 degrees Celsius. Coconut develops in light-textured, alluvial and deep soils. It adapts well to soils with a saline aquifer and possesses a high demand for chlorine. The plant is sensitive to the formation of puddles and thus drainage must be taken into consideration. These requirements make coastal regions the most adequate areas for its cultivation.
Although the coconut’s hydric needs depend on several factors such as the plant’s age, its height, the foliar area and the local climate, it requires an annual average precipitation of 1,500 millimeters, with a monthly rainfall of 130 millimeters. Although light winds favor coconut cultivation, the palm is sensitive to strong, hurricane-type winds, especially the dwarf variety.
There are thirty-five coconut varieties. It is the most cultivated and important palm tree worldwide and one of the main producing species of vegetable oil. The major coconut classifications depend on its height: giants, dwarves and hybrids. The giant coconut palms are used for the production of oil and they live up to 90 years. Among this group the Malaysian Giant, the Rennell Giant from Tahiti and the West African Giant from the Ivory Coast stand out. On the other hand, dwarf coconut palms are used for the production of water consumed as bottled beverages and they live up to 35 years. The main varieties cultivated are: the Yellow of Malaysia, Green from Brazil, Rio Grande del Norte and the Orange Dwarf from India. The hybrids, produced as a cross of giants and dwarves, have diverse uses. The most cultivated hybrid is the MAPAN VIC 14, a cross between the Malaysian Dwarf and the Panama Tall. The world’s major coconut producers are Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Brazil.
Coconut planting and production in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic ranks 25th among coconut producers worldwide, with an estimated production of 236 million units in 2012, and an estimated value of RD$1,606 million. The Malaysian Dwarf variety is cultivated extensively in the country and the PB121 hybrid, a cross between the Malaysian Dwarf and the African Tall varieties, since it is the most resistant hybrid to lethal yellowing, which is an incurable disease that affects the coconut palm. The only viable solution has been to plant tolerant varieties. Coconut production is carried out extensively in the coastal areas of the Samana Peninsula and in the provinces of Maria Trinidad Sanchez, El Seibo and La Altagracia. They can also be found (although on a smaller scale) in Barahona, Cabral and Neyba. The planted area has increased almost 200% during the last two years, totaling close to 176,080 hectares in 2011.
Coconut exportation and its contribution to the national economy
The Dominican Republic is the world’s 5th exporter of dry coconuts, with almost 22,700 tons exported in 2011. The average exportation of dry coconuts is close to 180 million units per year. In 2011, the country exported 219 million units, a 16% increase compared to the previous year. Our principal export markets are the United States, Canada, Haiti and Europe.