The aging demographic in much of Asia is a well-known concern, but the region faces another worry about a population that grew up in the years after World War II: the coconut trees are getting old.
The Asia-Pacific region produces around 90 percent of the world's coconut products, including coconut water, oil and milk as well as timbers used in construction, with global demand for these products growing at more than 10 percent a year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or FAO.
Coconut trees reach their peak production of as much as 400 coconuts a year between 10 and 30 years of age, but with many of the region's trees planted shortly after World War II, their production is declining, the FAO said, noting regional production has been growing around 2 percent annually.
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"Asia and the Pacific's aging coconut trees simply can't keep up with the growing demand," said Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director-general and regional representative for FAO, in a statement.
It's a big business: in the Philippines, coconut oil is a top-10 export, with around $918.4 million worth of coconut commodity products exported from January to July, up 7.7 percent from the year-earlier period, compared with total exports of $30.42 billion over the period. Indonesia, India and the Philippines account for around 70 percent of global coconut-product production, the FAO said.
"(The) livelihoods of one in every five Filipinos are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut sector," said Romulo Arancon, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community, in the FAO statement.
"Propelled by the health and wellness trend, global demand for coconuts is set to grow steadily over the medium to long term," said Simone Baroke, an analyst at consultancy Euromonitor in a May note. She noted coconuts not only have significantly lower fat levels compared with other nuts, their main fatty acid constituent is lauric acid, which helps elevate "good" cholesterol, making it more heart healthy.
She expects demand for fresh coconuts to grow around 25 percent over 2012-2017.
Replanting aging trees to keep up with growing demand is a key concern, but it's hampered by the industry's fragmented nature. While large conglomerates control much of the region's oil palm plantations, most coconut growers are small farmers. Around 95 percent of coconut trees are harvested by small-holders, according to the FAO.