They pop up everywhere. Hanging from trees, mixed into smoothies, sprinkled on salads, applied during massages, carved into jewellery. Or – as I am enjoying as I write this – simply with the top hacked off and a straw.
It’s all about coconuts on Koh Samui. The southern Thai island has long been famous for its abundance of coconuts, which provided its main source of revenue until the industry was eclipsed by the rise of tourism in the 1980s. But recently, coconuts appear to be making a comeback: Koh Samui is currently awash with coconut-related initiatives aiming to revitalise the industry.
There are coconut festivals, coconut conferences and local government promotional campaigns to bolster the once booming industry, not to mention 100,000 coconut seedlings donated to the island by the royal family on the king’s birthday.
Dr Narong Chomchalow, a leading coconut expert and chairman of the Conservation and Development of Coconut Oil of Thailand Forum, says: “The local administration is trying hard to revitalise Koh Samui’s coconut industry,” he says. “Due to a strong promotional campaign to save coconut palms on the island, the coconut industry in Samui island will be quite healthy in the near future.”
The rise of health-conscious consumers in Europe and the US is also helping fuel the creation of a string of new-generation coconut drinks, snacks and cosmetics.
While Madonna – a Vita Coco coconut water fan – cannot claim credit for single-handedly rejuvenating the world’s coconut industry, she has unleashed a tsunami of press coverage and debate surrounding its health benefits. With or without celebrity endorsement, the coconut oil industry is also on an upward trajectory across Thailand. Dr Chomchalow adds: “Demand for coconut oil has increased dramatically as people have started to realise that coconut oil is not hazardous but beneficial to health.”
It’s not just in Thailand that the hairy brown fruits are back in fashion. In Sri Lanka the prime minister recently unveiled plans to bolster its coconut market by distributing 47,000 saplings for cultivation across the country, with the goal of increasing the annual coconut revenue from 24bn to 75bn rupees (€161m-€503m).
Not to be outdone, the Philippines, one of the world’s most prolific coconut producers, is also in the midst of a long-term PHP1bn (€16m) project to revitalise the industry with plans to plant nearly seven million coconut trees in 212 locations.
Back on Koh Samui, the coconut revival has never been more welcome among local farmers, officials – and in particular, those fortunate enough to be sitting on one of the island’s beautiful beaches with an endless supply of chilled coconuts and straws to hand.