Coconut water is trending. In 2015, Americans drank $778 million worth of this natural product, and sales are projected to hit $1.9 billion by 2019. But the boom has missed a very important part of the chain: coconut farmers.

Daily challenges

In the Philippines, farmers like Gina Rison frequently earn less than $2.50 per day. Of the country’s 3.5 million smallholder coconut farmers, some 60 percent live in poverty even though coconut products comprise nearly 40 percent of top Philippine exports in terms of value.

Gina cultivates a three-acre coconut farm with her husband, Nico. To augment their income, Gina rises at 5:30 a.m. every morning to run a small sari-sari (convenience) store. She and her husband have also diversified their farm with a variety of fruit trees, and they recently joined an interdisciplinary, multi-partner program in the Philippines that addresses the inter-connected hurdles farmers face: low-performing older farms, insufficient financing to invest in their operations, limited access to larger markets and the devastating effects of extreme weather and climate-related pest and disease outbreaks.

“Coconut farming is not quick work, as trees can take up to a decade to mature.”

Stakeholder support

Cross-industry partnerships like these bring together the expertise and resources of important stakeholders in the coconut industry to benefit smallholder coconut farmers, including the combined skills and resources of non-profits, government organizations, organic food providers, microfinance institutions and several technology and data companies. 

Gina and her husband now receive agricultural and financial advice via text message, and early warnings regarding extreme weather and pest outbreaks. They have also received coconut seedlings donated to replace their aging trees.

Coconut farming is not quick work, as trees can take up to a decade to mature. But these patient investments are vital to the long-term future of these farmers and the global consumers that depend on them.