USAID supports U.S. Organic Water Company Harmless Harvest’s Climate-Smart Coconut Production
March 2, 2021 (BANGKOK) – With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Green Invest Asia project, a U.S. organic coconut water company, Harmless Harvest, is using geospatial data and carbon footprint analysis to plan its growth in Southeast Asia– while also shrinking its carbon footprint.
In collaboration with USAID-supported SERVIR-Mekong, a data partnership that uses geospatial platforms to mitigate climate change, USAID Green Invest Asia created for Harmless Harvest an interactive application that identified the most suitable locations to scale coconut cultivation in Thailand, based on ideal environmental conditions to grow the coconuts Harmless Harvest sources.
Together with the environmental consultancy firm, South Pole, the team also conducted a carbon assessment that pinpointed Harmless Harvest’s main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, recommending ways to capture more carbon, as well as to reduce emissions.
“The team’s findings provide scientific backing to inform how we improve our operations and to support our regenerative farming model,” said Mathieu Chaumont, Harmless Harvest’s Director of Sustainable Supply Chain. Harmless Harvest is finalizing its 2025 sustainability roadmap, which incorporates USAID Green Invest Asia’s low-emission recommendations.
From husks to meat, the company’s goal is to develop upcycling solutions for all components of the coconut, including in its own product innovation. In 2020, Harmless Harvest started a zero coconut waste program in its Thailand manufacturing facility. The company is training 350 farmers in central Thailand on “regenerative” agriculture, which helps reverse climate change by capturing more carbon in soil, preventing its release into the atmosphere, and restoring balance in the ecosystem.
“It is refreshing that Harmless Harvest is not resting on its reputation as a socially and environmentally progressive company,” said Christy Owen, head of USAID Green Invest Asia, which supports investment into agriculture and forestry initiatives in Southeast Asia that are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “The fact it is asking ‘how can we be better’ helps set an industry standard.”
Harmless Harvest is a founding member of the Sustainable Coconut Charter, through which buyers and other stakeholders in the coconut industry collaborate to reduce negative social and environmental impacts from coconut cultivation.
USAID Green Invest Asia’s carbon assessment estimated relevant emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide released during the production of organic coconut water and sourcing of coconuts, manufacturing operations, and distribution of the final product from Thailand to the United States.
Using a “cradle-to-gate” life cycle assessment to estimate kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e)/liter of coconut water, the research team calculated the main sources of Harmless Harvest’s GHG gross emissions. Being organic certified, Harmless Harvest’s agricultural commodities emissions are already 66 percent lower than traditional plantations of the same coconut variety in Thailand. But the company’s vision is to achieve a net positive carbon footprint ( where more carbon is captured/stored than is released). Recommendations to further reduce carbon emissions include improving agricultural waste management to prevent decomposition of organic waste under anaerobic conditions, and extending the use of by-products to reduce operational waste.
From space to farm
SERVIR-Mekong–a partnership between USAID and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)– supported by Dendrolytics, a U.S. sustainability research firm, measured environmental conditions needed for the variety of coconut Harmless Harvest sources, including temperature, humidity, soil, and slope. It then created an interactive application with layers of geospatial information that classified potential growing areas as “not suitable”, “marginal”, or “favorable” conservation areas.
“Agriculture by algorithm – sometimes the answers to challenges on the ground can literally come from the skies,” said Owen. “SERVIR-Mekong’s expertise in machine learning, coupled with our project’s on-the-ground expertise and Harmless Harvest’s commitment to sustainability and data keeping, is an effective combination to improve agricultural sustainability – not just coconuts and not just in Thailand.”
The results indicate promising areas of Thailand to expand cultivation. “We are using the results of this study to identify where both farmers and the environment would benefit from our regenerative farming model, to make them more resilient to global warming and lack of precipitation. By expanding our production in areas where land was degraded, we intend to rebuild the ecosystems and to improve carbon sequestration,” said Chaumont.
In recent years, the wide usage of coconut in cosmetic, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries has driven the rapid growth of global coconut market, as has the trend toward “healthy hydration” away from sweetened soft drinks. The global coconut water market was valued at almost $3 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CGAR) of 19.7 percent from 2019-2025, according to 360 Market Updates.
But demand continues to outpace supply. Aging – or “senile” – trees, erratic weather and coconut pricing, and deforestation/ encroachment are common obstacles to increasing coconut yield throughout Southeast Asia, where most the world’s coconuts are grown, without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
“What we have learned from the carbon footprint and GIS analysis that USAID supported allows us to be more confident that our business expansion plan is sustainable,” said Chaumont.