Shortage may lead to pricey coconuts

    Coconut processing firms in Ben Tre Province, a major coconut producer in Viet Nam, are facing a severe shortage of raw materials for production as more fruit has been sold to China.

    Tu Nhung, a coconut trader in Ben Tre Province’s Mo Cay District, says in the early morning she drives a cargo boat to the fields and by noon, with her boat laden with fruit, she heads to Ham Luong River. There, many boats from China are waiting to buy coconuts.

    “Local firms only buy coconuts that weigh a minimum of 900 grammes each while Chinese traders buy all of them, from small to large ones, and offer the same price as local companies,” she explains.

    Many other local traders do the same.

    To cope with the situation, local processors must raise their offers to compete with Chinese traders, who have driven up coconut prices in the province, says Nguyen Minh Tam of Thanh Long Coconut Candy Company.

    The price currently stands at VND100,000 for 12 coconuts compared to VND40,000-VND50,000 a month ago, he says.

    Despite offering higher prices, local coconut processing companies have not collected enough coconuts needed for production.

    In addition, the coconut output this season has been low, equal to 30-40 per cent of the previous crop, which makes the coconut shortage in the province more serious, says La Van Be, deputy director of Ben Tre Province’s Department of Industry and Trade.

    To cope with the material shortage in the province, coconut processors have rushed to other neighbouring provinces as Tien Giang, Vinh Long and Tra Vinh to collect coconuts, pushing up prices in these localities as well.

    Many coconut processing companies have complained that they could not run at full capacity, and some have stopped operations because they were unable to collect enough materials for processing.

    To rescue coconut processors in Ben Tre, Be says the province should conduct a survey on the consumption capacity of local processors in order to ensure supply for the sector.

    Ben Tre is home to about 50,000ha of coconut, accounting for more than 30 per cent of the province’s total agricultural land, yielding about 360 million coconuts a year.

    More than 1,000 establishments that produce and trade coconut-based products are operating in the province, according to the provincial Department of Industry and Trade.

    Coconuts are one of the provincies key export items, the department says, noting that coconut exports are estimated to reach US$150 million this year compared to $92 million in 2008. — VNS