Coconut Farming and Cultivation in India

Coconut cultivation in India – The world’s Largest producer of Coconuts

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Did You know that India is the largest producer of coconuts in the World? It was the Indonasia and Philippines a few years ago but India stands as the largest producer of coconuts since 2017. 80% of all coconuts produced come from 3 south indian states. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with Kerala being on top.

As of 2020 , 20,000 Crore Rupees is contributed to the Indian GDP From Coconut cultivation. While at first glance it may not look much, the GDP of a small country would equal to that of a figure. Bhutan for example has 2.5 Billion as a total GDP in the year 2017-18. There are over 50 countries which have a GDP less than the total cultivation of coconuts we produce in india.

With the ever increasing need for coconuts in the international market and Local markets, coconut producers are enthusiastic about cultivating coconuts. Its one of the few crops which allow a decent profit and its estimated at least 1.2 crore people make a living out of coconut or coconut produce every year, which includes traders, pickers and labourers apart from farmers

From Food , Medicine, Farming and gardening industries to some industrial purposes, Coconut and or its by products are important. The leaves of coconuts are used as roofing material, The tree itself is used as fuel and in construction. The husk is used to make ropes, Mats, brushes, Mattresses and more. The shell is used for incense sticks and mosquito coils apart from plywood manufacturing. As food, its consumed naturally , in powdered or desiccated form, coconut flour, coconut milk and oil. The sap from the tree is used to make sugar , jaggery and also consumed as a local drink in many parts of the country.

Kerala considers coconut as one of the few trees which has its use in every part of the tree. From the dried leaf to the shell of the nut, everything is used in some way or the other. The tree itself is called the Kalpa Vriksha or the wish fulfilling tree by many and it does not live short of its name.

Coconut Palm

The real coconut palms (not the Hybrid ones but the traditional variety) grows up to a 100 FEet in height. The root is similar to that of grass, with no tap roots but fibrous roots which spread out. The roots are constantly replenished as the tree grows. The Leaves fall of clean leaving a scar on the stem. The fruits are in bunches and they have male and female flowers in the same tree.

Coconut palms are seen naturally in beaches when climatic conditions are suitable. They grow well in sandy soil with water salinity, which most other plants and trees cannot tolerate. The weather is required to be humid and warm. The tree does not tolerate cold weather and anything below 4 degree is fatal to the tree, though it may recover from cold weather. In cold areas, even if the tree survives, the yield is comparatively very less and the tree’s health is not as good. Good rainfall and full sun is required. Tropical weather is the perfect habitat for the coconut tree. Canopies and shade should be avoided. Heat above 40 degree is not usually conducive to these trees and will require plenty of water during summer where natural water sources are not available.

Coconut Cultivation in Kerala

Coconut is a homestead produced in kerala. Most farm holdings in kerala do not exceed more than 10-12 acres, but every household will have at least 2-3 trees for their personal use. The consumption of coconut in kerala is very high. Every part of the coconut is used in some way or the other. ITs an ingredient which is regularly used in kerala cuisine in the form of coconut oil, Coconut milk or shredded coconut as a garnish. You will usually taste coconut in almost every dish in kerala. It doesn’t matter if its a vegetarian meal, non vegetarian or a sea food, coconut has its presence.

When it comes to building homes, the thatched roofs of smaller houses still use coconut leaves as their roof cover. The husk is used as a fuel at homes and sometimes sold to coir factories. The recent use of Coco Peat in the farming industry has also seen a steep rise in need of coconut husk.

Kerala also happens to be the largest producer of coconut. Even with the high local consumption (the highest consumers of coconut is also Kerala), Coconut is exported from Kerala to various other countries and all over india. Over 40% of coconuts produced in India are from Kerala.

Productivity

The production of coconut vary from location to location and the variety. High yield varieties which are primarily produced for coconut water may fare better than the low yield varieties which are usually used for copra and oil production. If you put monetary values, both the plants will give you around the same profit. Availability of water and the soil conditions play a major role when it comes to tender coconut production. It is crucial that the trees get enough water throughout the year and lapse in watering the tree will cost dearly. With traditional varieties, the care is considerably lesser and water necessities vary a lot. This does not mean that you can be careless about watering the trees. IT only suggests that the amount of water required is a bit lesser than those of hybrids and high yield varieties.

For details on the trees and the yield per tree, check the table below on varieties of trees and their respective yield per tree. In general, the average yield per tree is 70 per year. With that number in mind, a hectare of Coconut tree plantation should yield anywhere around 12390 Nuts per hectare per year from the 10th year. The first 6 years after the plantation will yield no fruits and the yield is calculated from the 7th year.

Agro Climatic conditions for Coconut plantation

Coconut thrives best at 27 degree celsius. A variation of 6-7 degrees in either side is tolerated. Coconut prefers a tropical weather and a humidity of 60% is feasible. There have been cases where coconut is grown in hot weather as long as the humidity is conducive. Oman, parts of pakistan are example of high temperature zones where coconut fares well because of its high humidity. An average rainfall of 1000-3000 mm is recommended but an even rainfall of 2000 mm is ideal for high yield in coconuts. Water stagnation, poor soil conditions and rocky areas are not suitable for coconut cultivation.

Soil Suitable for Coconut trees

Coconut thrives in sandy soil. Clay soil is not feasible for coconut cultivation. Alluvial , Laterite, Red Sandy loom and Coastal soil are the most preferred soil types for coconut. Soil ph should be between 5 and 8 for optimal growth of coconut trees and high yield. Its also important to note that there should be no water retention and proper drainage of water should be maintained. Its important that the moisture remains in water for a longer period of time without flooding the area for more than a few hours a day. Coconut also requires full sun light, though partial shade is tolerated. Remove canopies and other shade trees from the surroundings where coconut trees are planted.

Varieties of coconut and yield per tree

List of Tall Varieties

VarietyTotal Nuts per YearTime to Yield
West Coast Tall806-7 Years
East Coast Tall706-8 Years
Chandrakalpa or Lakshadweep Ordinary (LCT)1005-6 Years
Philippines Ordinary Kerachandra)1105 Years
VPM – 3 (Andaman Ordinary)905-6 Years
Aliyar Nagar 1 (ALR 1)1255 Years
Tiptur Tall856-7
Kera Sagara (Seychelles)1006-7
Benavali Green Round (Pratap)150 
Philippines Tall (Chandrathara)110 
Assam Tall (Kamaroopa)110 
Kalpadhenu128 
Kalpa Pratiba131 
Kalpa Mitra80 
KerakeralamNA 

List of Dwarf Varieties (Tender coconut)

VarietyTotal Nuts Per yearYears to Yield
Chowghat Orange Dwarf653-4 Years
Chowghat Green Dwarf653-4 Years
Chowghat Yellow Dwarf  
Gangabandom603-4 Years
Malaysian Dwarf Yellow65 
Strait Settlement Dwarf Green60 
Kalpa Raksha654-5 Years

List of Hybrid Varieties

VarietyNuts Per yearYears to Yield
Kerasankara1084 Years
Chandrasankara1163-4 Years
Chandralaksha1094-5 Years
Keraganga1004-5 Years
Anandaganga955 Years
Kerasree1305 Years
Kerasoubhagya1165 Years
VHC 1984 Years
VHC 21074 Years
VHC 31274 Years
Gadavani Ganda140 
Kalpa Samrudhi117 
Kalpha Shankara84 

Site Selection

Before planting coconut trees, Specially in a farming model at large scale, its important to plan. Planning your entire process will avoid a lot of mistakes, increase yield and improve efficiency when it comes to managing your coconut trees. Your site selection is the first thing you have to think about. The right site will make the biggest difference. It will be the factor which determines the difference between success and failure, how much work you put into the field and how much you will get in return. A perfect site should be free from water stagnation, Will be accessible to water resources in dry weather, Easy to transport the coconuts when picking is done and also easy for labourers to do the necessary work including manuring and pest control. A perfect soil is also to be considered. If the site you select has clay soil and if the water retention is high, its best to avoid the plot. If the area you select is in a slope, you need to consider mechanisms to retain soil effectively, not allowing the nutrients to flow through. A perfect plot for Coconut plantation is even with sandy loom soil and with water resources throughout the year. Rest of it can be managed in most cases.

Preparation of Soil, Land and planting

Once you have selected the site, your next step is preparing the entire area. Flatten the entire area best you can. You may need a Bulldozer or a leveler / flattener at work. Clear out the entire area for best results. Trees should be removed as it will compete for both, nutrition and sunlight with the new coconut saplings. All shrubs and weeds should be removed.

While flattening the land and ploughing it, the nutrient rich top soil is often rendered useless and moves down. This creates a small depletion in nutrients and you will have to correct it before planting your coconut tree saplings. But before that, its important that you mark areas and space the location where you want to plant these trees. Systems for coconut planting has been developed by various universities and we have found the TNAU (Tamil Nadu Agricultural University) Website with the detailed information on the spacing methods. We urge you to look at the website for spacing information for planting coconuts.

Refer : http://www.agritech.tnau.ac.in/expert_system/coconut/coconut/coconut_mainfield.html#spacing For More information on Spacing Your coconut saplings.

Once you have marked the spaces to plant your coconut trees, it’s time to create pits for planting your coconut saplings.

Spacing Between Coconut plants

Refer : http://www.agritech.tnau.ac.in/expert_system/coconut/coconut/coconut_mainfield.html#spacing For More information on Spacing Your coconut saplings.

There are 4 main ways of spacing for plantation coconuts. The focus is on maximizing plants in an area considering the land dimension and resources. It’s entirely up to you to choose the right spacing methods and plan your plantation accordingly. Some may find it important to create a more spacious approach for entry of farming locomotives and tractors and trucks, while others may not have that concern. There may also be a need to plough the land from time to time to remove weeds if weed control is an issue. Space your Coconut trees accordingly.

Triangular Plantation : Ina  triangular formation, The trees are planted in a triangular pattern with each plant at a distance of 7.5 meters. Each side of the triangle is 7.5 Meters

Square pattern : This is the same as the triangular pattern but in a square formation. Each tree is distanced at 7.5 Meters again.

Single Hedge : The hedge method allows each tree at a distance of 6.5 Meters with each hedge at 9 meter distance .

Diagrams of the spacing and pattern are more descriptive with a picture and we advise you to go through the spacing section in The TNAU website for more details.

Planting Material and Planting methods

Planting methods and material vary depending on your site preparation. If you have chosen an area which is more prone to water stagnation, the method used is different to that of dry area. The soil also plays a vital role in your planting methods.

Planting in a High Rain areas

Water stagnation is a problem with monsoons in kerala and some parts. If you are in one of these areas, you may want to create bunds instead of pits to plant your coconut. Bunds could go as high as 70 centimeters from the ground and one meter in diameter. Plantation in high monsoon areas should be done right after the monsoon where rains are not often, but still remains. A good time would be after august in Kerala. During Summer , you will create a ring around the Raised bund to accumulate water and this should be done every year. In the due process, you could also clean up the surroundings and clear the weed. Its also a good practice to accumulate coconut husk and leaves around the bund to prevent water evaporation.

Planting in Water depleted areas. 

Tamil Nadu and andhra pradesh have considerably lesser monsoon. The right time to plant your coconut saplings will be right when the monsoon begins. In these areas, its common to start with a ring and a slightly raised bund in between. The pit should be prepared with coconut husks below 2 feet with the concave area facing up. This helps retain water for long even during the summer. Treatment for termites on these husks are recommended. Cover the pit with soil and soil mix. Dry cow dung can also be mixed with the soil . Once the pit is ready , Water will be retained in the pit for a longer period of time. During summers, the water requirement will also be considerably lesser for the first 1 years with the husk underneath retaining water for a longer time. Covering the plants with Coconut tree leaves to provide shade during summer is important for the first year.

Best Time and season for coconut plantation

WEather plays a major role in the growth of your coconut palm, the first few years. Coconut also requires a bit of water, but not too much during the first few years. The saplings should not be drowned in water. Considering this, High monsoon areas should plant coconuts right after the monsoon ends. August/September is the right time in Kerala. For areas with lower monsoon, plantation takes place right before Monsoon. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra are parts which have lower rainfall and should plant their coconuts around June / July. Its the same for Gujarat and other northern parts. For goa, the monsoon starts around June but monsoons are heavy and thus its recommended to plant coconut seedlings right after the monsoon. The plantation time is not always general. If you are in coastal areas with high rainfall, we recommend that you plant your coconut saplings right after the monsoon.

Care for Young coconut palms

Young plants need more care and time than the adult Palms. Right nutrition, proper maintenance and removal of weed and pests during the initial stages of the plant will produce a healthy adult plant with less diseases and higher yield. Nutrients for the first year is minimal and often none. Add Cow dung, 10 KG to the soil before planting and that should be sufficient for 6 months . Add another 10 KG after 6 months. After a year, you can add nutrients to the soil. Adding Urea during the first year is not recommended for coconut palm. Water is key for young plants and keeping the soil moist throughout the year is recommended. A plant will require 20 Litres of water every day through drip irrigation. Provide shading for young plants and staking if wind speed is high in your area. Shading will reduce stress on the new shoots and leaves the first few years when the palm is tender. Stalking prevents the young sapling from uprooting due to high wind.

Irrigation requirements for coconut palm

Depending on your infrastructure, The irrigation levels may differ. With drip irrigation and a basin around the tree, you will require 20 Litres of water per plant the first year. The water requirement increases over the years and depending on the seasons. Drip irrigation is recommended for coconut farming, specially in areas where water is scarce. Water requirements for coconut trees with drip irrigation is 65 Liter per day during summer, 55 Litre per day between summers and monsoons and 45 Litres per day during monsoons. Most often, monsoons will not require irrigation as the rain will be sufficient. During off seasons, the water is important to these plants.

With Stream And bund irrigation, there is a higher chance of weeds and controlling them will add to the cost. Drip irrigation will provide water under the coconut tree and should prevent water being fed to weeds. Maintenance is considerably reduced with Drip irrigation in coconut plantations and the water wastage is also lesser.

Husk Burial

Husk Burial is a practice which has been continuously taken up by coconut farmers to retain water. Coconut husks are buried in pits with the concave part facing the ground. The pits could go as deep as 3 meters and could be in any shape. The pits usually are dug in a hedge formation and filled with coconut Husks. They are not covered and left as such . Areas around the pit is used to plant pine apples, Papayas and other crops and the water requirement for these plants are minimal. Coconuts too can be planted with this method but should have provision to water the coconut when the water depletes in the pits. Pit formation also imp[roves soil condition in the area by increasing worms. There are chances of termites in areas and proper treatment is recommended while husks are buried for water conservation.

In normal plantations, coconut husks are covered in the root area. Alternatively, coconut leaves are also placed in the root area. This prevents evaporation of water and helps keep the soil moist for a longer period of time. They also prevent weeds from growing near the root area. If you are in an area with high snake problems, you may want to take care while adding coconut leaves under the root area. Properly stacked coconut husks should be safer as large snakes will not have space to hide in them.

Shade for Transplanted seedling

Shade for young plants are important. There are many techniques used to prevent direct sunlight on the new plant. The easiest and the cheapest one would be to surround them up with coconut leaves in a standing position. This needs to be done for the first year and sometimes towards the second year. Once the base stem is strong and 2-3 leaves are fully developed , you can stop Covering the plants and allow it to grow naturally.

Direct sunlight often burns new leaves and could kill the sapling when they are young and tender. Your care for the first 2 years on the coconut farm will determine the health of your coconut tree for life. Also providing the right environment for your new sapling will help them grow faster and healthier. This includes providing a 60% shade at least for the first year.

Basin Formation for New Palm

A basin formation is the oldest practised technique to store water around coconut trees. Coconut trees do require a lot of water and the basin formation around the tree helps concentrate the water level in the area near the root. This helps the coconut tree acquire the maximum amount of water and also prevent water wastage. Keeping the basin area clean and free from weeds is important. The basin area also acts as the point to fertilize. May it be compost, cow dung or Chicken poop, The basin area will be the place to add them to. A basin should be created throughout the year (though it can be avoided during monsoon as there is plenty of water). A monthly or bi monthly maintenance of the basin is key to healthy coconut trees. Also cover the base of the plant with coconut husk, Coconut leaves and other mulching material to prevent water loss and avoid weeds.

Weed Management

Weed management is to be practised around the basin area regularly. Keeping your farm clean will ensure that proper nutrients are provided to the coconut palm and not to the weeds around. Keeping your farm free from weed has other benefits too. Its easier and accessible for farm workers. It keeps the farm free from dangerous pests including snakes. It prevents insects and pests which are harmful for the coconut tree itself.  ITs easier to water the coconut palm and fertilize them and most importantly it looks good.

WEed management should be practiced whenever required. If the growth of plants and weeds are above 30 centimeters, consider ploughing the land in between and clearing the basin area of the coconut plantation.  If you find it feasible to use a grass cutter, use it and mulch the entire land. Avoid weedicide as much as possible. The chemicals in the weedicide will affect your coconut palm adversely, especially if they are too young. While mulching is not an option in the land area between the coconut trees, you could always intercrop or multi crop this area with beneficial plants. This would add profits to your farm whilst the coconut trees are getting ready . Intercropping can be practiced in coconut plantations for the entire lifetime of the plantation and there is no concern about it. There are plenty of plants which will grow in partial shade and especially a lot of vegetables which can be planted as cash crops to benefit the farmers. Check out the section on intercropping below. Intercropping also ensures that your plantation is continuously maintained and generating revenue.

Manuring & Fertilizers for coconut

Lack of nutrients could result in stunted growth to lack of nuts and empty / barren nuts. Flowers start shedding before it turns to fruits (button Shedding ) and Leaves turn pale yellow.

The right amount of nutrition at the right time helps keep the plant healthy. Apart from the normal nutrients , consider adding micro nutrients and do a soil testing from time to time. Understanding the soil conditions, its ph levels and the nutrients missing will help make decisions easier and avoid a lot of problems in the farm.

The below list of nutrient recommendations is basic and should be followed every year. Consider adding up to 3.5 KG potash every year from the 6th year. The nutrients should be split in two halves and applied in equal intervals, usually during june July and October November. When nutrients are applied, ensure that there is good water content in the soil and the soil is always moist.

Nutrient2nd Year3rd Year4th Year5th Year Onwards
Urea300 Gm500 gm750 Gm1 KG
Phosphate500 gm1 KG1.5 KG2 KG
Potash500gm1 KG1.5 KG2 KG
Borax50 gm
Gypsum1KG
Magnesium Sulphate500 Gm

Application of compost and organic manure is mandatory the first year and should be followed up every year. 50 KG of organic manure/ compost, 5 KG of neem Cake should be added every year.  Avoid adding fertilizers with organic manure and give 2 months gap between application of organic and non organic fertilizers. This will also provide an even amount of nutrition for the trees throughout the year. Chicken manure is also used in many parts of kerala. Though they are good for coconut trees, it is to be followed with ample water. Also ensure that the chicken manure is free from pests, worms and other diseases. 30 KG of Chicken manure per tree every year is seen to be beneficial in coconut trees after the 5th year. Avoid using chicken manure for the first 5 years of the plant’s life.

Sunn hemp is a common cover crop with high nitrogen content. It prevents other weeds from growing in the farm area and helps in Nitrogen fixation. Sowing 30 KG of Sunn Hemp twice a year and ploughing them when it flowers can enhance soil nutrition. Alternatively Daenga can also be planted twice a year to enhance nitrogen content in the soil.

Intercropping Multi Species Cropping and intercultivation

Intercropping in coconut plantations is a wide and vast subject. There are people who have cultivated a wide range of crops in coconut farms and found success. It not only beneficial for the coconut trees but adds income for farmers. From fodder plants like mulberry to passion fruits, Cocoa, bananas and even papayas apart from a range of vegetables can be planted in between the coconut trees. A study by the Karnataka state Agricultural university on passion fruit in coconut plantation found a lot of interest and success. KErala is known for bananas apart from coconut and large scale banana plantations in coconut groves has been common practice. Tamil nadu cultivates a range of vegetables in coconut groves. When selecting intercropping plants its important to grow native plants. Plants native to the region will be easier to maintain and returns will be high. Also keep in mind the weather and season of the plant your intend to grow. The right timing will be the difference between success and failure.

Best Intercrop for Coconut trees 

Kerala has the perfect tropical weather. A range of plants grow here, which are hard to grow in the neighbouring states. For instance, Pepper. Pepper is widely cultivated in Kerala, but does not do so in most parts of tamil nadu where coconuts grow. Parts of Karnataka like coorg grow good pepper but coconut cultivation is limited. Andhra has dry and arid weather.  Pepper is not suitable here. But when it comes to kerala, Pepper can grow almost everywhere.

Some of the crops grow in coconut farms include

  1. Pine Apple
  2. Cocoa
  3. Banana
  4. Papaya
  5. Passion Fruits
  6. Mulberry as Fodder
  7. Tapioca
  8. Maize
  9. Turmeric

Refer: http://www.celkau.in/crops/Plantation%20Crops/Coconut/organicfarming.aspx https://www.coconutboard.in/images/icj-2018-01.pdf

Intercropping with coconut plants will require you to know which native plants grow in your area. A 4 level cropping on coconut plantations have been found successful in kerala and tamil nadu. This includes incorporating plants of 4 different height. At the ground level, pineapple is planted with the next level as Cocoa or Nutmeg. The third level is a pepper vine on the coconut and the last one is the coconut itself. The income is steady and profit increases depending on how well the plants are maintained and suitable for your climatic conditions.

Harvesting

Harvesting should be done every 45 days. A yield of 10-12 nuts per tree can be expected when the yield is high and the tree is a high yielding variety  6-8 nuts per 45 days for normal varieties. A nut takes 12 months to develop from flower to maturity. Tender coconuts are best when cut between the 6th and 7th month. During this period the water content of the coconut is high and the Brix level is optimal.

refer:https://coconuthandbook.tetrapak.com/chapter/chemistry-coconut-water

Traditionally, coconut picking was a tedious process which required a person to climb the treen and cut the entire bunch of coconut from the tree. This practice was acceptable for a long time as coconuts were sent locally and damages were usually minimal. The coconuts which were damaged were usually discarded and then used for copra after drying in the sun. With time, Labour was hard to find in most places to climb coconut trees and the entire process was risky.

These days harvesting of coconuts are done using long poles with curved machete or a sickle attached to the end of it. The coconuts are easier and faster to harvest using this method and the damages are the same as when a person climbs the tree and cuts the bunches. Harvesting using poles is much faster and easier. Labour is easier to find and the risk level is comparatively less.

These days custom made coconut climbing machines are available which makes climbing coconut trees much easier. Though its not widely used, its becoming important gradually. With many vendors looking for coconuts which are not fallen or dropped but handpicked as the water is clear and to the standards of export quality required. Its also lesser in FFA or Free Fatty Acids when the coconuts are handpicked. The FAO has a complete documentation on the benefits of hand picked coconuts at http://www.fao.org/3/a1418e/a1418e.pdf

For Copra and normal coconut use for milk and other produce, a pole method is still the most feasible and effective one. If you are looking to sell to exporters of coconut water, they will require that the fruit be transported to them with care and the fruit is hand picked and not dropped. In this case a coconut climbing machine is require as its safer and easier to harvest manually.

Pests and Pest control

While most people think that coconuts are not prone to diseases, Large scale farms have a number of problems from white fly to civets. Controlling your pests is very important as some of these pests can kill a tree. A tree which is 20 years old can be destroyed in a week if not careful. Know the problem and act fast.

Some of the Pests which are common in Coconut plantations include

Pests are dependent on your area and what crops grow in the surrounding. Termite prone areas should be treated accordingly and annual application of pesticides should be sprayed in the root area. Some problems can be contained with natural methods. Some will need that you use chemical pesticides and there will be no options.

Refer : http://agritech.tnau.ac.in/horticulture/horti_pcrops_coconut_pest_dis_mgnt.html http://agritech.tnau.ac.in/crop_protection/crop_prot_crop_insect_oil_coconut.html

http://www.fao.org/3/a-bt726e.pdf