This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
The principal coconut product exported from most producing regions is copra, which is the dried meat or hard endosperm of the fruit. To produce the best copra, nuts should be thoroughly and uniformly ripe, and this condition is best guaranteed by permitting them to ripen on the trees until they fall, and then to collect and use them at frequent intervals. However, it is far more common practice to harvest them before they fall, going through the groves at regular intervals. This is most commonly done every three months. The nuts are cut down in various ways. The simplest method is the use of a long pole made of detachable joints of bamboo and bearing at the top a sharp and recurved knife. A nut-gatherer then goes from tree to tree and cuts down the nuts that are ready, without leaving the ground. This method is the local one used in certain parts of the Philippines.
Elsewhere in the Philippines and in many other places, the practice is to climb each tree, using notches cut at convenient heights for this purpose. If these notches are cut with sufficient care, it probably can be done without real damage to the tree, but in practice such care is not usually taken, and the notches are very often centers from which decay of the trunk begins. In other places the nut-gatherers climb the trees without notches. To do this easily, they usually bind their ankles together with a thong, or pass a rope around the hips and around the tree, or use both of these devices. The old story of the harvesting of coconuts by the use of monkeys is not altogether a myth. In the Sunda islands and in Sarawak, monkeys are sometimes trained for this purpose; and from Sarawak, these trained monkeys are occasionally exported to the Straits settlements. In some of the islands of the south seas, the entire nuts, husk and all, are split into halves with an axe, and in Ceylon a machine for this purpose has come into limited use. Elsewhere, the first step in the preparation of copra is the removal of the husks. This is usually done with the aid of a piece of iron, three cornered and moderately sharp, mounted on an erect stick and standing at about the height of the knee.
This implement is in universal use in the Philippines, and elsewhere in the East, and has of late years come into use in the tropics of the New World. A machine to remove the husks has also been invented", but the most that is claimed for it is that a workman can husk a thousand nuts a day, and this is only the standard day's work for a nut-husker in the Philippines by the old method. After the removal of the husk, the nut is split into two halves by a sharp blow with a heavy knife. The water is allowed to run out on the ground. - Methods of drying copra fall under three heads: sun-drying, grill-drying, and kiln-drying. Centrifugal dryers have also been tried and are said to give good results. Sun-drying is the oldest method, and is a good one where the climate is such that the drying can be trusted to go on without interruption. Under favorable conditions it produces the finest grade of copra, Cochin sun-dried being the standard of excellence. Most Philippine copra is grill-dried. A hole is dug in the ground on which is placed a grating usually made of bamboo, and the whole protected by a roof. Coconut husks and shells are used for fuel. The heat and smoke rise directly from the fire to the coconuts.
Sun-drying takes usually five to nine days; if more than this is required, the method is unsafe. Smoke-drying is finished as a rule in a single day or in parts of two days. Smoke-dried copra is unsuited for the manufacture of food products and accordingly sells at a lower price than the best copra. It is a good way of making poor copra; for if any copra is imperfectly dried or is even in part the product of unripe nuts, it ferments with a considerable loss of oil, and this fermentation is decidedly checked by smoking. Kilns for drying coconuts are of various patterns in different countries, and if properly handled always produce a high grade of copra. There is one kiln in the Philippines which handles more than three tons of copra at a charge, and dries it in six or eight hours. By all methods, it is customary to make two stages of the drying, one immediately after the nuts are opened, and the other after the meat has shrunk enough to be easily removed from the shells. The ultimate use of copra is the manufacture of oil, an industry which has been developed to the greatest extent in France. In all coconut countries there is a local business in manufacturing oil. This is done by various primitive methods, some of which produce a food or toilet product of the highest possible quality.
In the manufacture of such oil, the utmost care is taken and the product is of purely local use. Oil for wider distribution is manufactured with less care, by methods characteristic of the different countries. To prepare oil for world commerce, such establishments as have long been used in European countries, and to a less extent in the United States, have more recently been founded in the producing lands. The oil has a variety of uses. It was formerly consumed almost entirely in the manufacture of soap and candles. Principally during the last decade, methods of refining and separation have been developed, by which excellent butter-substitutes are made. As-the butter produced in this way is palatable and most digestible, and is cheaper than real butter, these products have found a ready sale, with the result that there has been a great increase in the demand for good grades of copra and a consequent improvement in the general quality produced in most countries, and an increase in the price of all grades.
It seems probable that the market will for some time continue to increase more rapidly than the supply.