Cocopeat: the next coconut export winner

THE Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) sees the country becoming the top supplier of cocopeat worldwide, if producers have the proper postharvest technologies to manufacture more export grade cocopeat.

Cocopeat, a by-product of coconut husk, is popular worldwide primarily as a growing medium for crops using hydroponics.

Data gathered by PhilMech showed that the country has enough coconut trees to exceed India and Sri Lanka, which are currently the top exporters of cocopeat even if both nations have less lands devoted to coconut compared to the Philippines.

India has one million hectares of coconut lands, and Sri Lanka has a coconut area only the size of Bicol region. The Philippines has 3.3 million hectares of coconut lands.

“It is part of PhilMech’s mandate to conduct research so we can put to good use the many types of wastes that farms produce, and if only 30 percent of discarded coconut husks are processed into high-grade cocopeat, the Philippines could be the largest supplier of the commodity internationally,” said PhilMech Executive Director, Engineer Rex L. Bingabing, citing a recently concluded study by the agency.

Based on the research conducted by PhilMech researchers led by Dr. Manolito C. Bulaong, the Philippines exported only 5,000 metric tons (MT) of cocopeat but India and Sri Lanka exported 400,000 MT and 82,000 MT, respectively in 2011.
“If only 30% of coconut husks can be collected and processed from total coconut production, about 562,000 MT of cocopeat can be produced [by the Philippines], exceeding the production of India,” the researchers said.

Bingabing added that in addition to harvesting enough discarded coconut huks, the proper drying technologies must be provided to produce export-grade cocopeat.
PhilMech’s research showed that while sundrying cocopeat is popular in Sri Lanka and India, the agency is recommending mechanical drying because some parts of the Philippines have rainy weather. Also, PhilMech is recommending the mechanical dewatering of cocopeat before drying.

With the cooperation of Suki Trading, a PhilMech-accredited manufacturer, and Filcoco, an exporter of coconut by-products, the agency was able to develop a two-stage drying system to produce export-quality cocopeat.

A belt press was recommended to dewater cocopeat down to a moisture content of 60% to 65%, while a rotary drum drier heated by a biomass furnace reduced moisture further down content to 16%. At that moisture content, cocopeat could be formed into blocks for export.

While PhilMech has recommended further study to improve the prototype rotary drum drier, the agency believes that the potential for the Philippines to become the world’s top cocopeat exporter cannot be ignored, especially now that cocopeat is still gaining wider acceptance as a growing medium for hydroponics.

Cocopeat has a water retention capacity of up to 8 times its weight and needs less watering compared to peat moss, another popular growing medium. Also, cocopeat is resistant to bacterial, weed and fungal growth, and can be used up to four years.

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