The End Of Coconut Water? The World’s Trendiest Nut Is Under Threat Of Species Collapse

Kristy Hamilton 30 Nov 2016, 21:02

The Conversation

“Orange juice for breakfast is over,” an investor interested in creating large, fair trade coconut plantations recently joked to me. These days, coconut water is king.

For the trendy and the wealthy, including celebrities such as Rihanna, Madonna or Matthew McConaughey, rarest coconut water extracted from the aromatic varieties of the nut, is the “it” drink and even a source of income.

Coconut water is being sold by luxury brands, at up to US$7 for 33 cl, about the same price as basic champagne.

A booming market


There is no doubt that the coconut market is exploding. Coconut water currently represents an annual turnover of US$2 billion. It is expected to reach US$4 billion in the next five years.

In 2007, a 25% stake in Vitacoco, the largest brand for coconut water, was sold for US$7 million to Verlinvest company. Seven years later, another 25% stake in Vitacoco was again sold to Red Bull China for about US$166 million.

Other large players in the coconut water business include Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, but more than 200 brands are now marketing coconut water.

An essential crop

But there’s another side to the story. The coconut is one of 35 food crops listed in Annex 1 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and considered crucial to global food security. In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated global production to be 61.5 million tonnes.

It is an important livelihood crop for more than 11 million farmers, most of whom are smallholders, cultivating coconut palms on around 12 million hectares of land in at least 94 countries worldwide. The coconut palm is popularly known as the “Tree of Life” – all its parts are useful.

The main products are copra – the dried inner meat of the nut, used for oil – and the husk, which provides a vital source of fibre. More recently, as we’ve seen, there is also high demand for tender coconut water and virgin coconut oil.


Braiding ropes made from the husk of the niu magi magi variety on Taveuni Island, Fiji, 2012. Cogent/Roland Bourdeix, Author provided

Whole mature nuts are exported and sold to factories that produce desiccated coconut and coconut cream. At least half of the coconuts are consumed locally.

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