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Productive Coconut Farming: Fertilization (Part 1)

Dr. Nupur Srivastava November 26, 2016

Coconuts are known for their great versatility, as evidenced by many traditional uses, ranging from food to cosmetics (1). The coconut is the most extensively grown and used nut in the world and the most important palm. It is an important commercial crop in many tropical countries, contributing significantly to their economies. They form a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics. Coconuts are distinct from other fruits for their large quantity of “water.” The coconut is a tropical tree species, mainly grown and harvested by small-scale farmers. Production of coconuts is concentrated on island and coastal areas, such as Fiji and Samoa, as well as in the humid tropics, such as India, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia...

The Top 5 Coconut Producing Countries

 Country                                           Coconut Production 2014                           % of World Total

                                                        (metric tonnes)

1.  Indonesia                                               18,300,000                                      35.8%

2.  Philippines                                             15,353,200                                               30.0%

3.  India                                                       11,930,000                                               23.3%

4.  Brazil                                                       2,890,286                                               5.66%

5.  Sri Lanka                                                 2,513,000                                 4.9%


Sources:  FAOSTAT data, 2016 (last accessed by Top 5 of Anything: January 2016).

Coconut production is in metric tonnes (m/t) for the year 2014 (latest year for which statistics are available as of Jan 2016). This top 5 list may include official, semi-official or estimated data gathered by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Coconut cultivation

Coconut trees are hard to establish in dry climates, and cannot grow there without frequent irrigation; in drought conditions, the new leaves do not open well, and older leaves may become desiccated; fruit also tends to be shed (2). Coconut is grown under different soil types such as loamy, laterite, coastal sandy, alluvial, clayey, and reclaimed soils of the marshy low lands. The ideal soil conditions for better growth and performance of the palm are proper drainage, good water-holding capacity, presence of water table within 3m and absence of rock or any hard substratum within 2m of the surface.

Coconut farming in Philippines and challenges faced by the farmers

As the world's second biggest producer of the fruit, the Philippines is a major source of coconut products consumed around the world. In Philippines, the coconut industry provides a livelihood for one-third of the country's population, per data from the Philippine Coconut Authority . Each year the country's 338 million coconut-bearing trees produce on average 15.344 billion nuts a year, second only to Indonesia.  At the same time, the Philippines is the world's third most exposed country to natural disasters, the FAO said and its disaster prevention and response systems are poor. The challenges and the damages faced by the farmers post-typhoon are tremendous and irreplaceable.  The damage from natural disasters are challenging the industry as it tries to keep up with growing demand. Another reason for low productivity levels may be attributed to lack of information on appropriate technologies for coconut farming. This article summarizes to provide individual farmers basic technologies appropriate for productive coconut farming.

The first step towards my article (Dr. Nupur Srivastava) is to create an awareness about the proper use and management of fertilizers for a healthy and profitable coconut farming. The organization which is supporting me for such a good cause is the non-profit organization,Enhance a Village, Inc.  which is dedicated to eliminating poverty in developing nations by educating farmers and helping them gain access to sustainable farming methods and technologies with an emphasis on good stewardship to the environment. Their mission is that by introducing new farming technologies and assisting the farmers to gain vital access to their resources, poverty can be eradicated one village at a time. One such village is Kuyaoyao, Philippines, the people of which, especially, the farmers are struggling in their daily lives to have a stable and profitable income.  

The Executive Director, Alfonso Galarpe of Enhance a Village, Inc., says, “The present condition of the village is that the average education level of the community is 5th grade.  A few finish high school, and none received a postsecondary education. The farmers earn $6 daily, and they have to resort to other means such as burning mangrove trees to make charcoal supplement their income.  The inhalation of smoke poses health issues and devastate the aquatic ecosystem.  Children are burden with adult responsibilities to help their family for their livelihood.  Solutions are needed to increase the family's income. The coconut trees are aging and becoming unproductive.  The solution is to replant with hybrid trees of higher yield from the crop. The farmers receive a small revenue from the raw materials that they provide to multi-national corporations.  Their earnings pale the multi-corporation profits who adds value to the raw material in their processing plants to make products such as the virgin coconut oil and coco-sugar.  The solution is to build a plant in the village to bypass the corporations and sell on a market on a global scale. The children leave the village in search of jobs in the city where they are vulnerable to crimes such as human trafficking, prostitution, drugs, and slave labor to name a few.  Girls end up pregnant at an early age and the vicious cycle of poverty continues generations after generations. The solution is to provide jobs in agriculture and keep the family intact and whole.” A team of volunteers  are supporting the organization with their skills and resources.

Proper management and use of fertilizers

Coconut productivity remains low because of dependence of farmers on the natural fertility of the soil.  As a perennial crop, coconut takes a long-life cycle and calls for abundance of nutrients to sustain growth and yield.  Since the demand is continuous, the supply will eventually be depleted.  Some researches in coconut-growing countries revealed that organic fertilizers alone or combined with chemical fertilizers (as KCl or NaCl) promote early flowering and increase yield.  Organic fertilizers can be obtained by recycling coconut by-products or other sources like animal manures or industrial wastes.  However, farmers should be taught proper management of these materials as they may pose danger to humans, coconut, or the environment (3).

Fertilizer is the most important and costly input to enhance crop yields. Systematic manuring with balanced fertilizer mixtures is an essential practice in the cultivation of coconut. Experiments have shown that fertilizer application markedly increase vegetative growth and nut yield (4). Regular manuring right from the first year of planting is essential for good vegetative growth, early flowering and bearing and sustainable yield of coconut palms. The first application of chemical fertilizers should be done after three months of planting.

Table 1: Annual yield and production cost of salt fertilization on coconut: With an increase in the rate of NaCl fertilization in coconut farming, there is an increase in copra yield average production. 

 Table 2: Recommended NaCl rates for different stages of growth of coconut palms


Salt, a cheap and effective fertilizer for coconut

A nationwide survey conducted by the Philippine Coconut Authority revealed that 24 out of 54 coconut-producing provinces have widespread chlorine deficiency. The application of sodium chloride (NaCl) or common table salt can effectively control this problem. The application of sodium chloride (NaCl) can increase nut production, copra weight per nut and copra yield per tree. (Table 1). Table 2 shows that different stages of coconut palms requires different application rates of NaCl for increased production. The beneficial role of chlorine in the normal growth, accelerated development, and high nut and copra yields of coconuts was confirmed in the inland coconut-productive areas in Davao, Philippine.

In a long-term study of salt application, 1.5 kg NaCl/tree/year is most effective and economical to increase copra weight/nut and copra yield (per tree or per hectare). Leaf chlorine is the main factor for copra yields; and for foliar diagnosis (a tool for nutritional diagnosis and predicting fertilizer needs), the critical level of leaf-Cl was found at 0.30% Cl and optimum level at 0.50-0.55% Cl. The addition of 60-70 g NaCl/seedling can increase the plant’s girth and fresh weight .

Salt may be applied in three ways:

Soil and plant testing: basis for fertilizer recommendation

Fertilizer use for a crop could be recommended based on soil testing and leaf analysis. Not only is fertilizer overuse wasteful, but it can result in the contamination of both crops and water resources with nitrates and other residues. Furthermore, quite apart from the pollution problems, overuse of fertilizers means higher costs for farmers and wasted resources.

Soil testing and plant diagnosis make it possible for farmers to assess the nutrient status of the soil and crop, and apply fertilizers only when there is a deficiency to be corrected. This solves the problem of overuse, and means that crops benefit from a balanced fertilizer regime. In countries where fertilizer applications are very low because of economic constraints, soil and plant testing can help farmers improve the timing and quantity of their fertilizer applications, to make sure that they bring the maximum benefit in terms of crop yield.

The question may arise whether plant or soil analysis should be used for diagnosing crop nutrient requirements and making fertilizer recommendations. The answer is that both methods may be complementary, not competitive and the laboratories should be in the possibility to carry out both types of analysis. However, it is recommended to start soil analysis prior to plant testing.  The reason for this is that it is basically necessary to gather sufficient knowledge of the soils which will receive the fertilizers, while plant testing may be carried out as well for observing the effect of fertilizer applications as for determining nutrient requirement of crops.

Hanks in 2013 (5) cited that the conventional uses of soil analysis are the following: 

Prediction of nutritional values needed for crop production

In determining the status of the soil for example nutrient availability; these are the parameters being analysed to form a basis to determine fertilizer needs — macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), micronutrients (zinc, boron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, sodium), available moisture, soil pH, texture, organic matter. After the soil is analysed, fertility recommendations are made based on amounts of actual nutrients in the soil, not on the amount of any particular fertilizer or mixture.

The key production areas of coconut were classified based on the ideal growing condition:


In foliar diagnosis, a composite sample of palms grown under similar conditions is collected at intervals. For a particular stage or age of coconuts, leaf sampling is done on the selected leaf rank (number) of the palm based on its phyllotaxy. Depending on the average count of living or functional leaves at sampling time, a guide to the proper leaf rank to be sampled was recommended by Magat and Prudente (6) as follows:

Living leaves average count (5-10 leaves) Stage Leaf rank to sample

4-6 Nursery 1

7-12 Nursery/field 3 or 4

13-18 Pre-bearing 9

19 or more Bearing 14

Most coconut areas in the Philippines are widely deficient in N, Cl, S and K2O and adequate in other nutrients. Generally, liming is not needed as coconut has a wide adaptability to soil acidity(pH 4.5-8).

With the gained knowledge and emerging technologies, the nutrition and fertilizer requirements for the coconut plants can be easily assessed. These studies would really help the farmers in the remote areas to develop the understanding of the improved methods of fertilization, which in turn would lead to their upliftment in their financial/economic conditions.

References:1."Cocos nucifera L. (Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops; unpublished)". Purdue University, NewCROP - New Crop Resource. 1983.
  1. Chan, Edward and Craig R. Elevitch. (April 2006). Cocos nucifera (coconut) (version 2.1). In C.R. Elevitch (Ed.). Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Hōlualoa, Hawai‘i: Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR).
  2. Mantiquilla, J.A., Canja, L.H., Margate, R.Z. and Magat,S.S. (1994) The Use of Organic Fertilizer in Coconut - A Research Note. Philippine J. Coconut Studies 19 (1) 8-13.
  3. Baloch, P.A., Moizuddin, M., Imam M., Abro B.A., Lund J.A. and Solangi A.H. (2004) Effect of NPK Fertilizers and Farmyard Manure on Nut Production of Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.). Asian Journal of Plant Sciences, 3: 91-93.
  4. Hanks, D. (2013) Soil Analysis -The Reasons and Methods. Available at:(
  5. Magat, S.S. (1979) The use of leaf analysis in the coconut field fertilizer trials in the Philippines. Phil. Journal of Coconut Studies 4(1), 32-39.