Riding the Coconut Wave

Grameen Foundation works with a team of organizations to help coconut farmers like Gina (center) revitalize their farms and increase their income.

On their coconut farm in the Philippines, Gina Rison and her husband Nico have battled pest outbreaks, drought, and typhoons. But today as part of Grameen Foundation’s FarmerLink program they are starting to ride the rising wave of demand for coconut. 
In 2015, Americans alone drank $778 million worth of this natural product, and sales are projected to hit $1.9 billion by 2019. But the boom has largely missed a very important part of the chain: coconut farmers. Some 60 percent of the Philippines’ 3.5 million coconut growers earn less than US$2.50 per day.
One of the biggest challenges facing coconut growers are their aging trees--trees that produce less with each passing year. Gina explains that the problem is not only financial, but also emotional: “Most of the trees here are old, they are older than me,” she says. “Farmers don’t cut them down even if they don’t produce coconuts anymore because they have sentimental value.  These trees were passed down to them by their grandparents.”
But now there is added incentive to replace the old with new. FarmerLink partner Nutiva, a California-based organic foods company, has donated more than 60,000 seedlings to the program.
So although it’s hard to do, Gina urges farmers to replace their old trees with the seedlings, which she helps to distribute to nearby farmers who are certified organic. 
Meanwhile, a range of FarmerLink partners have stepped up to solve the complex problems faced by coconut farmers.  These partners include Franklin Baker, the country’s largest exporter; People’s Bank of Caraga; the government’s Coconut Authority, and several technology and data companies.  
Using the program’s digital solution, more than 24,000 farmers receive messages on their mobile phones with financial and farming advice; receive help in coping with pest and disease outbreaks; get alerts regarding extreme weather; and get guidance to earn organic certification.  
Coconut farming is not quick work, as trees can take six years or more to mature. But the patient investments of the FarmerLink program are vital to the long-term future of these farmers and the global consumers that depends on them.