A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts: How One Company Ethically and Sustainably Harvests its Tropical Crop

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(BPT) - No one knows for sure when or where coconuts originated, but there is no doubt about their global popularity today. Although they look like an oversize nut, coconuts are a remarkable fruit that offers a rare combination of liquid and food. Refreshing coconut water is an ideal recovery drink after a hard workout. The rich and creamy flavor of coconut milk is a delicious cow-milk substitute and a great alternative for people on a vegan diet or who want to reduce reliance on animal products. Coconut “meat” enlivens a wide variety of foods, from candies, cakes and cookies to stews and curries.

Successfully cultivating and harvesting coconuts can be challenging. Thailand-based Theppadungporn Coconut Company Ltd. (TCC), the world’s leading producer of coconut milk, coconut water and other coconut products under the Chaokoh brand, is leading an effort to ensure that commercial coconut operations adhere to ethical and sustainable farming and harvesting practices in Thailand.

Coconuts have to be picked at just the right time. Young coconuts go into producing coconut water. Mature coconuts are turned into TCC’s flagship product, Chaokoh Coconut Milk, which is enjoyed around the world. Coconuts grow in bunches that workers on the ground remove from the tree using long poles with a blade on the end. The bunches fall to the ground and are loaded onto trucks to go to the processing facility. Some coconut growers cushion the fall by creating canals of water between the rows of trees. Harvested bunches of green coconuts drop into the water, preventing bruising and rotting of the young fruit.

Traditional practices in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries relied on monkeys to harvest coconuts, but TCC’s modern approach to harvesting coconuts is vastly different. TCC wants to eliminate monkey harvesting in commercial operations throughout Thailand. The company is pioneering and promoting monkey-free cultivation across the sector by offering innovative, sustainable and ethical alternatives that will improve coconut agriculture overall. This effort includes educating farmers on best practices and distributing new low-growing coconut varieties that are easier for farmers to harvest. TCC also works with farmers to reduce the environmental impacts of their coconut operations.

TCC buys mature coconuts for Chaokoh products from farmers in four Thailand provinces: Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Nakhon Si Thammarat. All of the company’s suppliers' and farmers’ harvesting practices are audited before they are contracted with TCC and are required to sign a memorandum of understanding that commits them to monkey-free coconut cultivation and sustainable farming practices. To ensure these standards are met, TCC works with a respected independent third-party auditor, Bureau Veritas. The auditor performs regular inspections at TCC and its contracted coconut farms to ensure compliance with the sustainability and zero monkey-labor standards.

Bureau Veritas’ independent audit in 2020 confirmed that TCC had successfully achieved monkey-free cultivation across the audited network in Thailand. The audit found no evidence of monkey-labor in TCC’s supply chain. A second, larger audit is underway, with the final report coming in spring 2022.

TCC has also partnered with an animal rescue organization, the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, on an initiative to rescue and rehabilitate abused monkeys. Monkeys rescued from abusive farming operations receive any needed treatment and can retire peacefully at a sanctuary with other rescued monkeys.

TCC and its farmers recognize that today’s consumers have higher expectations about ethical and sustainable supply chains than ever before. TCC wants to ensure that consumers can enjoy the many pleasures of coconut products confident that the product’s journey from a tree in Thailand to their table in a far-away country was handled responsibly, ethically and without monkey labor.

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