Coconut value addition to produce desiccated coconuts, coconut oil, coconut soap and related products is proving a worthwhile venture globally. Following is a review of the various interventions across the coconut value chain in the coastal regions of Kenya
1. Overview of coconut market in Kenya
As per data from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, the coconut value chain in Kenya is worth about 3.2 billion dollars, forming just 25 % of the total value of the crop in the country (KARLO, 2016). Supporting over 150,000 households, the crop has been identified as key to food security for counties in the coastal belt namely; Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, Mombasa and Taita-Taveta. Historically, the main value added products across the coconut value chain were, coconut wine, nuts, brooms, and makutis. At present, virgin coconut oil, coconut milk and desiccated coconuts are slowly emerging as the main value added products from the value chain. Other products that can come from the crop include jewelry, coconut milk, and coconut charcoal.
2. Value addition-coconut water
For the purposes of this article, we will assume that the value addition process commences right after harvesting. At that point, the basic objective is to ensure the nuts are stored in a clean and dry place to prevent them from going bad. Next, the coconuts are de-husked to remove coconut fiber. Unfortunately, this process is done manually and there are few technologies to address the challenge locally. Then, the coconuts are spilt to extract coconut water, a process that is, again, mostly done manually. Splitting the nuts releases coconut water, which can be value added by adding preservatives and a package to create a final product. The common practice in Kenya is to sell the water after packaging without any preservatives. This, however, greatly reduces the shelf life of the product, more so, when it is not stored in cool environment.
3. Value Addition-Desiccated coconut
The split coconut exposes coconut flesh, which can be value added through grating. Traditionally, people on the coastal region use a manual grater called Mbuzi. However, with time, this technology is being phased out with mechanical graters. Studies conducted by ATDC Mtwapa established that an experienced woman takes on average 4 minutes to grate one nut. The grating time is reduced to 2 minutes with motorized graters, which are also much safer to use and deliver higher volumes of the final product. Grated coconuts is the outcome of the grating process. The grated coconuts can be value added further through drying and packaging into desiccated coconuts, which is on high demand, especially among bakers locally.
4. Value Addition-Coconut Milk and oil
Alternatively, the grated coconut can be value added further by adding water and pressing to extract coconut milk. Traditionally, the process of extracting the milk is done using a Kifumbu, where the grated nuts are inserted into a porous bag and pressed to extract the milk. However, with technology, mechanized options such as the Oil press now exist. Unlike the traditional presses, which was largely inefficient, these modern innovations can produce 1.6 liters of coconut oil from 27 nuts, which releases 28 kg of grates. The coconut oil is extracted from the coconut milk, through a process of decantation. The common practice among many entrepreneurs is to place the coconut milk in sunlight for two days, after which the coconut oil will float to the top of the milk, from where it is extracted. The coconut oil can then be packaged and sold. It can also be used to make soap, where it is incorporated as the primary oil in soap making chemical reactions.
5. Value Addition- New opportunities
While a lot has been done across the value chain, more interventions are needed to realize the full value of the crop. Some of the additional value addition opportunities across the coconut value chain include developing a harvester. Coconuts are located at the top most section of a tree and the process of harvesting them is largely manual. A simple farm tool can be developed to ease this process. Palm wine tappers could also benefit from an additional technology to allow them to tap the wine from the trees more safely and quickly. After harvesting, removing the nuts from the crop and de-husking them can also be mechanized. The technologies for such interventions have been tested in several other countries around the world, like India. Lastly, the current process of coconut oil extraction in Kenya can be improved. Instead of extracting coconut milk and decanting it to release the oil, farmers could dry the coconut grates in a drier and press them directly to produce oil. This cold press method has been tested in counties like India with tremendous success.
Kenya Agricultural & livestock Research Organization (2016). www.karlo.org/industrialcrops research institute