Arguably one of the most mainstream of the ‘healthy ingredients’, Coconut oil is now a staple in many households, not only that of the green brigade. As well as being a great ingredient for cooking, it can also be used as a natural alternative for everything from body lotion to lube. Its popularity in the market has even sparked the coconut’s manifestation is other forms from water, to sugar, and even flour. Countless recipe call for it, claiming its health benefits, I certainly love its sweet creamy taste, which is great in anything from deserts to savoury dishes.
In recent months we have heard much about the popularity of avocados and the issues countries like Peru are having in keeping up with the demand, but at what cost is the South East Asia native coconut suffering from the planet’s new addiction? Negative environmental impacts of the coconut industry can also be traced back to monoculture farming on the coconut farms. Although it is not on a level with the kind of deforestation taking place to make palm oil, the demand for vast quantities is taxing for the land on which these farms sit. Farmers have to continually plant more coconut trees so they are able to ensure productivity remains constant. This rotation, to replace the ageing trees takes a major toll on the soil, leading farmers to turn to chemical fertilizers, to boost their productivity. This then has a knock on affect to to the biodiversity of the area, affecting land and air quality
Another of the issues of increased coconut, as well as avocado, date and cashew consumption is transportation. Specialist diets that rely heavily on foods not native to local areas contribute enormously to these emissions. As it stands global food transportation one of the world’s fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Packaging is another contributing factor needed to boost shelf life and aid in transportation of the product. Tetra pak pouches, plastic bottles and glass jars all require big energy expenditure to make.
As with other cultivators of the tropics the final thing to consider is the human rights of the coconut farmers. You might think that at £2 a carton some of the money would make it back to the farmers, but more often than not they will make less than 15 pence per coconut.
Before you feel totally dismayed, there are a few things you can do to minimise the negatives. Firstly buying fairtrade is a good way to govern the methods farmers use, ensuring they are environmentally supportive. It also protects their well being, ensuring they are paid properly for their work. Equally choosing organic productscreate a higher demand for coconuts grown without chemicals and pesticides. Another way to get better at taking care of the planet is to recycle and dispose of rubbish properly. If you have local shops nearby that offer refill option for jars, go for that, rather than buying new every time. As for the other coconut products, like yoghurt, milk, water, and sugar, the best approach is to buy sparingly and mindfully.