The first consignment of imported hybrid coconut seeds docked at the port of Mombasa from India recently. This initiative has been funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) through the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT); a leading development organization in Kenya in partnership with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KARLO) and other government bodies.
This is a notable milestone after years of growing only two varieties of coconuts: the East African Tall which has been in production since the introduction of coconut growing in the country with no improvement at all in terms of research and the Dwarf variety mainly planted for ornamental purpose and tender coconut water. The East African Tall variety has over the years been grown for commercial purpose and its optimal production and productivity have not been realized due to inadequate research.
The trend in other coconut growing countries however has been the introduction of improved hybrid varieties of coconut mainly imported from India. The hybrid coconuts have been tried and proven to perform very well in other countries and hence the reason why efforts have been made to have them in Kenya. The Kenyan government successfully established a bi-lateral protocol with India, for importing the hybrid coconut seeds into the country with the involvement of KEPHIS and other government bodies.
This initiative was started five years ago by MESPT after the organization interacted with Asia Pacific coconut community at a conference in Kochi India. Over time, the idea has attracted various partners that include: KALRO, KEPHIS, Nuts and Oils Directorate, Ministry of Agriculture and the county governments within the Coastal region. MESPT has supported the coconut value chain among other commodities for more than thirteen years hence appreciates the opportunities and challenges associated with the value chain. The organization was instrumental in the formation of the Kenya Coconut Development Authority which has since rebranded to Agriculture Food Authority (AFA).
A total of 6,000 nut seeds that are now in the country will be planted in 120 acres of land. All seeds will however be under the care of KALRO Matuga for planting and subsequent trial for performance observation. After six months of successful observation, the seedlings will be distributed to small holder farmers who are expected to reap the benefits within two years. This is a big relief for the farmers and they no longer have to wait for 5-7 years before reaping the benefits of growing coconuts.
The imported hybrid coconuts are more superior to the existing Indigenous East African Tall variety in terms of quality and quantity. The hybrid coconut for instance has higher annual yield, its maturity period is shorter (half the maturity period of the East African Tall) and its copra production per nut is equally high – an indication that it’s set to revolutionize the coconut sector in Kenya. This is truly a great milestone towards the journey of developing the coconut industry in Kenya.
Coconut is one of the crops along the coastline with a great potential of contributing towards improving the livelihood of the people in the growing belt. This is due to the long coconut value chain enabling the production of over 100 different coconut products. The products from coconut are both edible and non-edible. It also offers raw material for several agro-industrial activities.