This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
The coconut is perhaps the most popular and best known of all the valuable oil-bearing plants; but although so well known, it is only quite recently that its value in making butter and other edible fats was discovered. Perhaps it was due to the Right Hon. Lord Leverhulme that the boom in this commodity, which has not yet reached its zenith, was first foreshadowed, if not begun. That great soap magnate and philanthropist recorded his opinion that " there is no field of tropical agriculture so promising, and no industry in the whole world offering so lucrative an investment of time and money as that of coconut cultivation." Every year about ten thousand million coconuts are cultivated, besides the vast numbers which grow wild.
In 1914 the value of the world's exports of copra and coir fibre (two products of the coconut) was estimated to be nearly 50 per cent, greater than the value of the world's output in rubber, and only 40 per cent, less than the world's output of gold; and companies, whose speciality is coconut butter, have paid as much as 200 per cent, dividend. Hence the coconut deserves a first place in a book of this character. Further, unlike many oil-bearing trees, it is found on most of the islands and coastal regions of the tropics up to 20° or 25° north and south of the Equator. Its greatest successes have been achieved in New Guinea, Malay, Sumatra, Panama, Java, the Philippines, Ceylon, the West Indies, the Malabar Coast, British Guiana, and it is now being cultivated in India and East Africa. The coconut is an important commercial product for exploitation in West Africa, but it requires careful handling; for, although coconuts are found all along the coast, they are not in any one area so numerous as to make by themselves a good paying proposition. In most cases-excepting here and there in a part of Sierra Leone, in Togoland, or in Liberia- they are scattered and under the control of different families or tribes, and only those who know the country and its laws and have obtained the confidence of the people can successfully combine various lands and planted areas for commercial working.
Only since the author * drew attention to the possibilities of coconuts in the Sierra Leone Littoral has the Government seriously taken up coconut growing there, importing the seeds from Malay. Previously the authorities had failed, owing, among other causes, to native antipathy, the natives neglecting to water the young trees because " the nuts themselves contained liquid"
Similarly, about seven years ago the Agricultural Department of the Gold Coast Government reported that the natives were making extensive plantations of coconuts, and that many were giving the trees very careful attention and taking a greater interest in the preparation of copra. These developments are now commencing to yield their beneficial results. Up to 1905 the coconut had not been energetically cultivated in West Africa, but copra is now commanding such abnormally high prices that there is every inducement to stimulate the industry. After the war immense developments will take place ;
* " Sierra Leone: Its People, Products, and Secret Societies." soil, climate, etc., are so favourable that the palms flourish naturally, and could be brought to a higher level of productivity by scientific, up-to-date methods ; native labour is abundant and cheap ; land is available at moderate rates ; West Africa is much nearer the principal European markets than most other coconut-growing regions, consequently freightage is cheaper, the copra arrives in a better condition, and commands a higher price ; the coast is outside the hurricane zone, and thus escapes the destructive storms from which those within the hurricane zone so frequently suffer.
During the four years previous to 1916 an average of over half a million nuts per year had been exported from Dominica, and as the local consumption is considerable, over one million nuts are probably produced annually (Rep., Agric. Dept., Dominica, 1915-16, p. 13). In the Lassoye district about 500 acres were planted with coconuts during the years 1913-14 to 1915-16. In British Guiana the area under coconuts continues to increase, and there were in 1916 over 18,000 acres under this crop compared with 5,140 acres in 1914. Over 80 tons of copra and 3,000,000 nuts were exported in 1916 from this colony.
Coconuts produced on several plantations on the coast and adjacent islands of Nicaragua have long been noted for their size, fine flavour, and good keeping qualities. An American enterprise has now acquired the plantations, extending for 32 miles along the coast below Monkey Point, between the Indian and Corn rivers.
The soil best suited to the coconut palm is a deep and fertile sandy loam, such as is found in alluvial flats, along the sea coast at the mouths of riven, or in wide river valleys. It is in such situations and on such soils that the coconut palm is most commonly found to flourish, but it can be grown inland, especially by the banks of a tidal river, the ebb and flow causing ideal conditions. The principal products derived from the coconut palm are :- Coconuts, copra (the dried kernel of the nut from which coconut oil is expressed), desiccated coconut (prepared from the fresh kernel, and largely used for confectionery purposes), and coir fibre, which is prepared from the husk of the fruit.
In tropical countries where the coconut palm is grown, nearly every part of the tree is utilised by the natives. The roots are used as an astringent in native medicine, and are sometimes chewed as a substitute for betel or areca nuts, sometimes interwoven with fibres to form baskets. The trunk, which, when mature, develops a very hard outer shell, is used to form rafters and pillars of native buildings. The inner portion of the trunk is too soft to be of value as timber, but the outer portion is capable of taking a fine polish, and is sometimes used in this country in marquetry work and cabinet-making. Prom its peculiar markings, consisting of ebony-like streaks or short lines irregularly disposed over a reddish-brown ground, it is known as " porcupine wood." The leaf-bud or " cabbage " is much appreciated as a vegetable or salad by both natives and Europeans, but to obtain it, or to tap the palm for wine the tree has to be sacrificed. (Planters need, therefore, to keep a sharp look out.) The fully grown leaves are put to numerous uses ; they are formed into mats, baskets, roof-coverings for native huts (ataps or codjans), fences, articles of clothing, and ornaments. The petioles or leaf-stalks are used to make fences and handles for tools, and when cut into short lengths and frayed at the ends they serve as brushes. The midribs of the leaflets furnish a strong fibre that is used for making baskets, strainers, and native fishing tackle. The sheaths produced at the leaf-bases consist of triangular pieces of fibrous material having a woven appearance ; these are cut into various shapes to form mats.