Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Australasian Permaculture Convergence APC10 2010

September 24 - 27, 2010

And Post-Convergence Tablelands Tour Tuesday, September 28

In the heart of the rainforest

Kuranda, Far North Queensland

Featuring many amazing permaculture personalities!

More information: www.apc10.org

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is Coconut Water Really as Good as Sports Drinks?

— By Kiera Butler
As a runner, I always considered sports drinks a necessary evil: While I never loved the taste, I held my nose and downed my Gatorade for the sake of proper hydration. But last year, a friend handed me a little box of coconut water, which, she told me, had just as many electrolytes as Gatorade. I took a sip, loved the mild taste, and found myself regularly shelling out as much as $3 for 11 oz. of the stuff. That is, until it disappeared from my local supermarket earlier this summer.

Turns out I'm not the only one with a new coconut water addiction. Although the beverage has been popular for centuries in countries where coconuts grow, it has only recently been marketed in the US. Vita Coco, currently the country's biggest coconut water company, was founded in 2004, and according to spokesperson Arthur Gallego, sales skyrocketed from $4 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2009. The past 6 months have been Vita Coco's busiest yet. "Typically Vita Coco would keep 45 days of inventory, but that has all been blown through," says Gallego. "People used to buy by the unit, now they are buying in bulk by the box."

Not to be confused with coconut milk, which is made from the white flesh of the fruit, coconut water is the clear liquid in the fruit's center. Also unlike coconut milk, the water is very low in calories and fat and high in the electrolyte potassium, which is why it's often marketed as a natural alternative to sports drinks. The website of the coconut water company Zico features a slide show of perspiring runners, rock climbers and mountain bikers and says the company is "on a mission to tell the world that Mother Nature made a better sports drink." Another manufacturer, O.N.E., claims that coconut water is "a natural alternative to Viagra" and prevents kidney stones. Others tout its anti-aging properties, and some companies regularly sponsor sports events and partner with bikram yoga ("hot yoga") studios.

But according to Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC-Davis, coconut water isn't ideal for prolonged bouts of physical activity. That's because of its particular blend of electrolytes. Unlike sports drinks, which generally contain a lot of sodium and a little potassium, coconut water is the opposite: heavy on potassium, light on sodium. "Even though the belief is that when you exercise you need a lot of potassium, sodium is more important," says Applegate. "When you sweat, you lose a lot more sodium than potassium." (Zico's new Natural Bottle product has a little more sodium, but unlike most coconut waters, it's made from concentrate.) Applegate says she has never seen any convincing scientific evidence to support anti-aging and kidney health claims. Still, she doesn't dismiss coconut water entirely. "If you like the taste, great," she says. "If you're doing a short workout, great."

Traditional coconut farming is relatively easy on the environment, says Severino Magat, a coconut expert and former senior scientist with the Philippines' Department of Agriculture. Compared to other crops, coconuts require little fertilizer, and their giant root systems help prevent soil erosion. They support beneficial bacteria and fungus, which nourish the sandy beaches where they grow. Because of their thick husks, coconuts rarely require pesticides, except in the case of major infestations. (A good thing, since according to Magat, the chemicals travel "to most parts of the plant, including the nut, within 24-48 hours after application" and can remain in the plant for months.)

The main environmental cost associated with coconut water, at least in the United States, comes from shipping. Coconut water comes from young, green coconuts, sometimes called (no snickering!) tender nuts, which are grown in tropical regions all over the world. Harvested when they're between six and eight months old, these bright green fruits bear little resemblance to their mature counterparts (the hairy, brown kind you see in the supermarket). After the water is extracted from the young fruit with a tap, it is flash pasteurized, bottled, and shipped, usually on cargo ships. Vita Coco buys its coconut water exclusively from Brazil, while Zico buys its coconuts from Latin America, Indonesia, and Asia.

Although coconuts are now ubiquitous in the tropics, they weren't always. Botanists believe the coconut palm is probably native to Southeast Asia, but it has spread rapidly across the world through trade routes in the past two centuries. A 2009 Stanford study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that seabirds don't like to nest in coconut palms—they prefer native trees. That's a problem, says Hillary Young, a lead researcher on the study. "Many species of seabirds are globally declining, so anything that degrades seabird habitat is a real concern." Also, birds' guano (poop) is an important part of island ecosystems. But "even outside of seabird habitat, new coconut plantations may have negative effects on native plant and animal communities," writes Young in email, though she notes that the same is true of any one-crop plantation.

But even with the skyrocketing demand for coconut water, so far the major manufacturers still mostly buy from small, family-owned plantations that rely on low-impact, traditional farming methods. But were the coconut industry to scale up and industrialize, either because of demand for coconut water or other coconuts products such as oil for cooking or even biodiesel, the environmental impact would likely increase. Mike Foale, an agricultural researcher at the Australian Commonwealth and Scientific Research Organization, predicts that coconut farming in Brazil will expand rapidly in the coming years. To wit: Last year, PepsiCo bought the Brazilian company Amacoco, the country's largest producer of coconut water. (PepsiCo also distributes O.N.E. in California and Florida. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, bought into Zico, a move that prompted one New York yoga studio chain to stop selling it. According to Beverage World, Vita Coco is the only major coconut water that has so far remained independent of either soda giant.)
The bottom line: While serious athletes are probably better off hydrating with sports drinks, coconut water's okay for light workouts and everyday activity. That most coconut waters contain only one ingredient is a nice plus, especially considering the strange hues and artificial flavors common in sports drinks. Environmentally speaking, coconut water is actually not bad. So far. But here's what's not sustainable: going to seven supermarkets to find my coconut fix. I'll try to restrain myself.
Got a burning eco-quandary? Submit it to econundrums@motherjones.com. Get all your green questions answered by signing up for our weekly Econundrums newsletter here.
Kiera Butler is an associate editor at Mother Jones. For more of her stories, click here.

National Tropical Plants, Australia's favourite online tropical plants nursery!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Researchers give green thumbs up for treated coconut coir

From the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

Some good economic advice for the nursery industry today about the cost effectiveness of using the humble coconut as a source of potting mix.

New research by Agri-Science Queensland shows nursery and cut flower producers can actually grow plants more cost effectively using treated coconut coir potting mix, rather than the less expensive untreated varieties.

Agri-Science Queensland’s Dr Rachael Poulter said the use of coir (fibre made out of coconut husks) as a potting mix by the nursery and cut flower industries was increasing as it was affordable, sustainable, light weight, and retained moisture.

"However, the process of treating coir results in a more expensive final product than the untreated version, so many producers have been favouring untreated coir based on price alone," she said.

"Over the past year, Agri-Science Queensland has put this to the test by researching, for the industry’s wider benefit, the productivity and cost/benefit differences between treated and untreated coir products.

"Funded through Horticulture Australia Limited, the aim of the project was to quantify differences of growth, yield and quality of Gerberas grown in different treated and untreated coir products.

"We found there were significant affects on plant health, growth, yield and quality between those grown in treated and untreated coir.

"Overall, the results showed that when it comes to value for money as well as quality growth performance, treated coconut coir is the best option."

Dr Poulter said a field trial was conducted under protected cropping practices in which three growing media were compared in terms of total productivity and flower quality parameters such as stem length, flower diameter and vase life.

"The coir supplied with no pre-treatment or buffering produced significantly fewer flowers than those grown in a pine bark/coir mix or the pre-treated coir," she said.

"While the pine bark/coir mix produced a greater number of flowers, the flowers generally had shorter length stems than those grown in treated coir."

A cost benefit analysis shows the higher return from better stem length outweighs the increase in stem numbers, giving a cost/benefit ratio of 2.58 for treated coir, 2.49 for untreated coir, and 2.52 for pine bark coir mix, for every single dollar spent.

"While this does not seem a large difference, when considering the number of plants a nursery or flower grower might maintain, there is potential significant cost savings from using treated coir instead of untreated coir," she said.

"Using this cost ratio calculation in the case of a grower maintaining 50,000 plants, the difference in revenue from using treated coir instead of untreated coir could amount to more than $60,000 per annum.

"The main conclusion drawn from this study is that favouring untreated coir products based on price alone is a false economy."

Dr Poulter said further research was recommended to assess the products over a longer time period, and using a wider range of plant species.

"Further research and development into coir products would ensure greater understanding of the importance in choosing the right growing media to meet specific needs," she said.

Agri-Science Queensland acknowledges the support of this project by the Flower Association of Queensland Incorporated, HighSun Express and Jiffy and Florist.

Agri-Science Queensland is part of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

For more information visit www.deedi.qld.gov.au

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Response to 'Coconut Killer' article by Mike Foale

By Mike Foale. 

By way of background I have been a coconut specialist for 52 years having begun to study the palm at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad in 1958. My current mission statement is “coconut redemption” indicating my attempt to rescue the reputation of the palm, as a component world-wide of the tropical beach ecosystem and as a source of good food, from its many detractors. I see the activity of Dr Spencer as very unfortunate and am at a loss to detect any authentic reason for his campaign to annihilate the coconut in Australia.

Sincerely, Mike Foale

Honorary Research Consultant (coconut) - University of Queensland, St Lucia 4072

Coconut palms are actually a native species of the Australian tropical coast. They were found, for example, on Russell Island in the Frankland group near Gordonvale in the 1840s, by the survey ship Rattlesnake. Because the White-tailed rat loved to eat nuts that were washed ashore, as did the aboriginal people of Cape York, the palm was not widespread before the European settlers came. It is very much a part of tropical beach flora and, worldwide, contributes to the stability of the beach above the high tide mark. The idea that it is a threat to other native strand flora is nonsense.

I would urge northern shire councils to protect the palms on their beaches as they add an authentic tropical ambience to the environment. Any mosquito breeding would be due entirely to the careless leaving of split nuts by consumers who need to be reminded that any free water comprises such a risk during summer.

Please draw attention in your newspaper to my book "The Coconut Odyssey - the bounteous possibilities of the tree of life". This can be accessed on the internet at http://www.aciar.gov.au/publictions/MN101
 The evolution of the coconut palm is described in that book. For tens of thousands of years coconut has been a principal food for coastal peoples from India through south-east Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, Melanesia and right across the Polynesian islands of the Pacific. It has the potential to become an important food source also in tropical Australia and would be especially valuable for coastal aboriginal communities.

The oil of the coconut alleviates the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, it is an energy food and also has reduced the onset of dementia in some elderly folk.

It is way too valuable a resource to become the obsession of a misguided "beach protector" who seems not to be aware of the huge role that coconut has played in the human story.