Black Immigrant Daily News
St Mary-based coconut farmer Michael Swaby was named the World’s Best Innovative Farmer among entries from 21 coconut-producing countries at a recent conference in Malaysia.
There was also more success for Jamaica at the 50th International COCOTECH Conference (ICC) and Exhibition, as Dr Wayne Myrie, a plant pathologist at the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) was voted runner-up to the Best Coconut Scientist of the year.
He was edged out of the top spot by a counterpart from India.
Swaby, who reaps more than 1,000 coconuts per week from his 38-acre farm in Crescent, St Mary, was elated at winning the award.
“Words cannot express how I feel because I have been doing some serious work on my farm for many years. I started planting coconuts when I was 17, so I have been in the business for a long time”, Swaby told Loop News.
The veteran farmer said he used to export bananas in the 1980s and nineties but is now focusing on coconuts after what he calls a “massive replanting of the whole farm” in 2003.
Swaby does intercrop of the coconut trees with bananas and other produce and has ponds stocks with tilapia fish on the farm, located close to Jack’s River and Fontabelle.
“I pump the water back from the ponds for use on the farm”, he explained.
Swaby also does a thriving business on Wednesdays and Fridays, supplying coconut water to homes in St Ann and Mary, especially to gated communities such as Vista Del Mar Apartments and St Mary Country Club.
He also bottles coconut water on the farm for the market.
On his farm, Swaby employs five persons full-time and others on a seasonal basis and reaps “1,000 to 1,200 coconuts per week, and can find a few dry ones”.
“My young trees have just started to bear, so we should double that number in a few years”, he says.
As president of a group of about 20 farmers in the area, Swaby says he is keen on sharing his knowledge about the coconut business and planting materials.
“The business is good at this time. We are still trying to lift the production in this area”, he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Myrie in discussing the conference, said a delegation of 10 persons from Jamaica made the trip to Malaysia, including farmers, agro-processors and representatives from the CIB.
He said while Jamaica cannot compete with the larger countries in terms of production, the country and the region were in a good place because most of the trees here were young and of bearing age, unlike parts of Asia where 62 per cent of the trees are senile (past bearing age).
“We have been actively replanting because of the effects of hurricanes and the lethal yellowing disease”, Dr Myrie said, noting that Jamaica can satisfy the local market for jelly coconuts.
Jamaica produces between 100 million and 130 million coconuts per year.
Last month, the 50th International COCOTECH Conference (ICC) and Exhibition was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with more than 500 participants. It was held under the theme “Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategy for a Resilient and Sustainable Coconut Agroindustry”.
Established in 1969, the ICC is an independent intergovernmental organisation which consists of 21 member countries and accounts for about 90 per cent of the world’s production of coconut.