Coconut trees cling to life
By Trung Chanh - The Saigon Times Daily
CAN THO – While coconut farmers and traders in the Mekong Delta are crying out over constant price drops, hitting a two-year low, local agriculture authorities are struggling to find a way out for the coconut industry.
Farmers, traders “die” with coconuts
In less than a half month, dried coconut prices in Ben Tre and Tien Giang, the two provinces with the largest coconut cultivation areas in the Mekong Delta, slid by over VND20,000 per dozen, the lowest in two years.
Phan Tan Tai, a coconut intermediary trader in Cho Gao District, Tien Giang, said dried coconut prices in Ben Tre and Tien Giang have plunged to VND10,000-12,000 a dozen, meaning a coconut is worth only VND1,000. Compared to the record high late last year and early this year, each dozen of coconuts have lost VND120,000-123,000.
Coconut flesh is now bought by dried coconut flesh producers in Ben Tre at VND3,000 per kilo, falling 60% over a half month ago.
The coconut price slump brings huge losses to farmers in Tien Giang and Ben Tre. Some farming households even intend to chop down their coconut trees for other crops.
Tran Van Thuan in Ben Tre City said: “Although cheap coconuts are almost sold for nothing now, no one comes to buy. Even my regular customers have stopped purchasing because their barns are already full.”
Not only farmers are in trouble, intermediary traders have also run into indebtedness as they had bought coconuts at high prices earlier.
“When coconut prices dipped to VND20,000-22,000 per dozen, I thought they would not drop further, so I rushed to purchase, waiting for high prices to sell. Unexpectedly, coconut prices continued to fall, now each dozen of coconuts brings a loss of no less than VND10,000,” stressed Tai.
Rescue plan in deadlock
Giving explanations for the coconut price decline, Ho Vinh Sang, chairman of the Ben Tre Coconut Association, said: “There are many reasons for the sharp coconut price drop, but the crux of the matter lies in the markets, as 80-90% of Vietnamese coconut products is exported. But now, export markets are shrinking dramatically, while we reap a bumper coconut harvest this year.”
To cope with the difficulties of the coconut industry, the agriculture authority of Ben Tre has suggested many measures, such as offering coconut processors capital support so that they will boost purchasing from farmers. However, these solutions have not shown any effect or already fallen through.
Meanwhile, Tran Van Duc, general director of Ben Tre Import Export Joint Stock Co., said factories are running at full capacity, but unable to process all the coconut output of Ben Tre.
Ben Tre’s agriculture authority is encouraging farmers to resume coconut oil production to deal with the huge coconut inventory.
“I’m seeking ways for farmers to dry their coconuts so that they can produce coconut oil like before. However, the point is building a coconut kiln is so costly that only the affluent or owners of large barns can afford, but this is merely a situational and temporary solution,” said Sang.