USAID-Convened Coconut Sustainability Experts Call for Increased Industry Collaboration
April 4, 2022 (BANGKOK) – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Green Invest Asia project, along with GIZ and Barry Callebaut convened the sixth Sustainable Coconut Roundtable on March 31st to continue formalizing a coconut industry sustainability platform, and discuss sourcing initiatives that benefit coconut farmers.
One clear call to action was “collaboration”, a word presenters repeatedly used over the 90-minute event. Madeleine Eilert, Nestlé’s Global Sustainable Sourcing Leader for Sugar and Coconut told the group of more than 150 attendees: “It’s about collaborating…and making sure that we use the learnings/experience from other roundtables and industries to make it easy to collaborate, listen to and involve everyone – and to really drive meaningful impact on the ground,” she said.
USAID Green Invest Asia and Barry Callebaut convened the first Sustainable Coconut Roundtable in 2019, which resulted in AAK, Barry Callebaut, FrieslandCampina, Harmless Harvest, JDE Peet’s, Nestlé, and Unilever signing and launching the Sustainable Coconut Charter in late 2020. The charter now counts 14 signatories that control nearly half the annual trade volume in coconuts worldwide.
Smallholder investment opportunities
One of the charter’s key pillars is supporting coconut farmers’ livelihoods. Dr. Steven G. Olive, Mission Director of USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia , linked smallholder security to climate security. “A hungry farmer cannot feed the earth, or a low-carbon future. Farmers in Southeast Asia produce two-thirds of global coconut supply. But they have another critical role – they are landscape managers,” said Dr. Olive. “An investment to strengthen farmers’ livelihoods is a land use investment. It is a supply chain investment. It is a climate investment.”
Experts working in the coconut sector in the Philippines and Indonesia, the world’s two top coconut producers and exporters, laid out challenges facing coconut farmers, including: Fragmented, dispersed smallholders who lack economies of scale, bargaining power and market access; supply chain disruptions from pandemic restrictions and the Russia-Ukraine crisis; aging “senile” trees past their prime; fluctuating commodity pricing, and a dwindling workforce as youths choose to leave family farms.
Market inefficiencies abound where the global price of coconut fails to account for all costs and benefits necessary to provide and consume coconuts.
One year ago, the Philippine government signed a law creating a $1.5bn coconut trust fund to revitalize, modernize and industrialize the country’s coconut sector.
On the private sector front, Franklin Baker Group – one of the world’s largest global suppliers of desiccated coconuts – is part of multiple public-private sector collaborations in the Philippines to increase farmers’ profit margins through long-term direct sourcing (without going through traders), intercropping, and farmer business schools.
USAID Green Invest Asia, in partnership with GIZ, convened a nine-member volunteer task force of coconut experts in late December 2021, which reviewed a proposal and developed recommendations for a Sustainable Coconut and Coconut Oil Platform that can facilitate and co-fund joint sustainability initiatives, impact assessments, and advocacy efforts. USAID Green Invest Asia will consult with Sustainable Coconut Charter signatories on next steps for formalizing the platform with identifying initial board members and Secretariat a priority.
The 7th Sustainable Coconut Roundtable will take place in late 2022.
Please contact USAID Green Invest Asia’s Partnerships and Sustainability Manager, Nichapat Na Thalang at [email protected] for a copy of the task force’s report, or to learn how to engage with the platform’s development. The event recording, speakers’ presentations, and task force recommendations for a new industry platform from the 6th Sustainable Coconut Roundtable are available here.