The world could be facing a coconut shortage on a massive scale. Demand has surged and the coconut palms planted over 70 years ago desperately need replanting. However, disease and limited propagation options mean that soon, there will soon be a massive deficit that could seriously impact global trading.
The coconut, a palm with multiple uses and known by the producing communities as the "tree of life", has been supporting the livelihoods of approximately 20 million workers around the globe. Coconut is a staple nutritional resource for communities, especially around the tropical world, in the form of products such as milk, cream, oil and coconut juice.
In world trade, it has a commercial history dating back to the 1880s, when there was a high industrial demand for coconut oil to produce soap and cooking oil. The demand for such products led to the widespread development of coconut plantations by colonial investors, throughout the tropics including the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, coastal Africa, Mexico and the Pacific.
In recent decades, coconut products have gained popularity in the U.S., Europe and Australia due to the development of virgin coconut oil and access to exported coconut water. However, a crisis is imminent as most of the present-day palms are senile and declining in productivity. The industry now requires palm replacement on a large scale.
With the increasing number of food products and other industry demands for coconuts, these production problems pose a serious concern—a concern that cannot be overcome by taking a billion fruit out of production to produce a significant number of new coconut palms. Thus, serious coconut fruit shortages are unavoidable and this will critically impact on global trading.
Nevertheless, coconut palms can be found with highly desirable traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and high yield. The University of Queensland is concentrating its effort on coconut cloning through tissue culture to meet the anticipated demand for these new elite seedlings. Coconut cloning will enable palms with resistance to the principal threats to be multiplied in the local regions once the technique has become affordable.