As refreshing as it may be, scientists in Africa are trailing an unappetizing (but potentially ingenious) use for coconut water: the artificial insemination of pigs.
Scientists at Gulu University in Uganda are part of a trial to see whether nutrient-rich coconut water can be used to improve the success of artificial insemination in pigs, according to SciDev.Net, a news outlet reporting on science in developing nations.
The water found inside young, green coconuts is naturally rich in nutrients such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. When the coconut water is used as a liquid to deliver the semen into the female pig's reproductive canal, it could be used to help maintain the sperms’ viability, the scientists hypothesize.
"High concentration of sodium and potassium in the green coconuts are factors which help in sperm motility and longevity," Elly Ndyomugyenyi, the project's lead researcher from the department of animal production at Gulu University, told SciDev.Net.
"Outside a boar's body, the spermatozoa will live for about four hours, after which they start to die due to starvation and temperature change, but when it is added to coconut water, they will live for up to 96 hours, allowing insemination at the appropriate time," explained Joab Malanda, a pig production expert at the department of animal science at Egerton University in Kenya.
The ongoing trial started in 2017 and has involved almost 1,000 local farmers in Uganda.
Demand for pork in parts of Africa is growing, but some countries in the continent are finding it tough to keep up with demand. The crux of the project is that it could be easily scaled up at a relatively low cost in African countries where coconuts are widely available.
By potentially improving the breeding of pigs, it could also help to stem the spread of diseases within farms. For instance, a big concern is African swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious viral disease found in domesticated pigs and first described in Kenya that has since spread to many other parts of the world.
Coconut water is often trumpeted for its health benefits for humans, but some of those claims should be taken with some caution. Since it contains electrolytes, coconut water is often used to replace body fluids lost through sweat after exercise. When it comes to some of the larger health claims about coconut water, however, there’s not a wealth of evidence.
As for its success at fostering healthy piglets, we’ll have to wait until the results of the trial are fully fathered, analyzed, and published.