Coconuts' remarkable levels of resilience means that they can be grown in a wide variety of soils, although they do require a relatively high amount of rainfall. The natural habitat of coconuts is found in coastal areas and on the fringes of deserts, where it is a primary source of sustenance for dwellers within these climes. The coconut is a tropical tree species, mainly grown and harvested by small-scale farmers. Production of coconuts is concentrated on island and coastal areas, such as Fiji and Samoa, as well as in the humid tropics, such as India, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Versatile Coconut

The coconut is a very useful plant with a wide range of products being sourced from it. Coconut products are used to make everything from clothing to animal feed to beauty creams. Its kernel is harvested for its edible flesh and delicious water, while its husk is used for its strong fibers. Most important, however, are its oils, which are extracted, processed, and marketed for culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses alike. Typically, the flesh is first dried down to 6% moisture to make copra. This product is then hauled to factories across the world where it is manufactured into oil. Less widely used, but more valuable, “virgin” coconut oil is directly extracted from raw coconut.

World-Leading Coconut Producers

Brazil was the top coconut producing country until 2010, but now three Asian producers have bettered it to take away its crown. Currently, 90% of global supply comes from Asia where it is a vital source of income for many countries. Coconut exports make up 50% of Vanuatu’s national income and 1.5 % of the Philippines’. The Solomon Islands and Samoa export mainly oil and copra, while India, The Philippines, and Sri Lanka concentrate on disseminating desiccated coconut products, and have dominated that market for over a century. The Philippines exports more than $1 billion worth of coconuts to the United States alone. Nonetheless, growth in the trade between them still lags 8% behind growth in demand.

Can Supply Catch the Demand for Coconut Products?

Demand for coconuts has grown upwards of 500% in the last decade. This is because coconut-based derivatives, such as soaps, virgin coconut oil, health products and coconut water, have all seen large spikes in demand, so much so that producers may not be able to keep up. The Philippines is requesting international help to streamline their production protocols, and the international community has responded by taking steps to reduce demand for coconuts.
Because demand for coconuts are not being met, European markets have taken a number of steps to curb their demand. Specifically, the European Union has proposed levies on vegetable imports to the EU, they have promoted the use of alternative vegetable oils, such as palm, canola and soya, and they have put stricter aflatoxin regulations into place within the copra production market. With the measures being taken to curb runaway demand, suppliers are still making a pretty penny. Indeed, numerous foreign firms are looking to invest in the supply side of coconut production, especially in places such as Sri Lanka's ultra-productive ‘Coconut Triangle’ region.

The Future of Coconuts

Today, the top coconut suppliers are struggling to meet the increasing demands of the global economy. Coconut has been a cash crop for decades and, even with stiff competition from other vegetable oils, it promises to continue to be a profitable venture in the future. Nonetheless, the top global coconut producers must learn from the current situation, and take steps to ensure that their farms are sustainable enough to stand the tests of time and meet future demands.

Countries With The Highest Coconut Production

Rank Country Coconuts Produced (tons)
1 Indonesia 18,300,000
2 Philippines 15,353,200
3 India 11,930,000
4 Brazil 2,890,286
5 Sri Lanka 2,513,000
6 Vietnam 1,303,826
7 Papua New Guinea 1,200,000
8 Mexico 1,064,400
9 Thailand 1,010,000
10 Malaysia 646,932
11 United Republic of Tanzania 530,000
12 Myanmar 425,000
13 Solomon Islands 410,000
14 Vanuatu 410,000
15 Ghana 366,183
16 Jamaica 310,000
17 Dominican Republic 286,934
18 Nigeria 265,000
19 Venezuela 263,867
20 Mozambique 260,000
21 China 254,620
22 Fiji 225,000
23 Cote d'Ivoire 195,000
24 Samoa 190,000
25 Kiribati 170,000
(Full Article: World Atlas, 2017, The World Leaders in Coconut Production)