A lot of indigeneous food products in Indonesia use coconut and coconut sugar as part of their ingredients, for example, the popular Bango sweet soy sauce which is consumed by millions of Indonesians on a daily basis.
However, the task of collecting the sap from the coconut flower which produces the sugar is an arduous process as farmers need to climb tall coconut trees which can reach up to 30 metres in height. To overcome this difficulty, Unilever is introducing to Indonesian farmers an alternative variety of coconut tree – The Genjah Kuning Bali – which has a shorter trunk, which means the coconut sap can be collected without climbing the tree, making the process much easier, safer and quicker. This will also translate to higher output and income for each farmer.
Unilever is introducing these trees as part of a planting initiative in Indonesia, integral to which is a training and fertiliser distribution programme to equip smallholder farmers with the skills and knowledge they need to care for and nurture the trees. This will enable them to produce an optimum yield per tree – both in terms of volume and quality – and make their plantations more resilient against climate change.
Dave Ingram, Chief Procurement Officer at Unilever said, “The way coconut sap is harvested now is difficult. This alternative breed of coconut tree promises to change that. We are seeing smallholders interested in cultivating this new variety of coconut tree, and we expect that this project alone will directly benefit around 5,000 households.”
Unilever started researching on tree varieties in collaboration with the Indonesian Coconut Institute in 2015. Then we started developing seeds and breeding saplings in partnership with a professional coconut nursery in Bali. Ingram said, “In 2017, we established a 100-hectare pilot plantation, and since then we have been progressively scaling up the project in 3 growing regions: Lampung in South Sumatra, and Sukabumi and Pangandaran in West Java. As of June 2022, we have planted the equivalent of 3,300 hectares in collaboration with 3,600 smallholder farmers.” The initial batch of short-stemmed coconut trees have started producing sap and Unilever is taking delivery of coconut sugar from these farms for its Bango factory.
In June, Unilever also rolled out a new mobile application, called Cropin, to support coconut farmers in Indonesia to increase their yields in a way that’s kinder to the environment. The app is uniquely developed for Unilever’s field teams who work directly with coconut farmers. Ingram added, “When our teams visit farmers in the areas we buy coconut sugar from, they update the app with information about the plantations. For example, they check how mature the trees are, any issues they are facing and their productivity levels. The app then gathers the data to provide location-specific advice that the teams share with farmers.”
The app also helps Unilever to track the amount of coconut sugar that it will likely to receive, thereby enhancing Unilever’s supply chain while making local farmers more efficient and resilient.
The initiative by Unilever is part of its wider efforts to help create a more sustainable coconut industry.