The Philippines must take notice of the growing world market for coconut water since exporting more of the beverage can help increase the incomes of small coconut farmers.

Gigi Calica, a senior science research specialist from the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) said that people getting more health conscious is driving the worldwide demand for natural health products like coconut water.

“There is an international demand for coconut water as more people are getting health conscious. Drinking coconut water benefits our health by strengthening our body, reducing fatigue, and taking care of our normal heart function,” Calica said.

She headed the project “Pilot Testing of Coconut Water Processing Enterprise in Selected Areas of the Philippines” to establish a holistic picture of the requirements for the successful adoption of the technology to extract, process and package coconut water.

The project was led by PHilMech and conducted from 2017 to 2019. It aims to determine the technical, financial, operational and management requirements needed to establish and operate a village-level coconut water processing system developed by PHilMech as an integrated component of the traditional copra and virgin coconut oil (VCO) processing system. The project was funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research through its National Technology Commercialization Program.

The Philippines is the second largest producer of coconut in the world, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

“We aim to process the unutilized coconut water into 100-percent pure, without any additives and preservatives, nutritious, and safe bottled coconut water with the ultimate goal to help and empower the small coconut Filipino farmers and increase their income,” said technology generator Ofero Capariño, chief of the Bioprocessing Engineering Division of PHilMech.

When coconuts mature, their meat is used to create products like copra, desiccated coconut, VCO, coconut flour, among others. However, during the processing of those products, huge volumes of coconut water or 2.4 billion liters per year are not utilized or thrown away. Coconut water taken from mature coconuts has more nutritional value compared to coconut water extracted from young coconuts.

One problem that needed to be addressed with coco water is its shelf life. According to Capariño, once newly extracted coco water is exposed to air, its quality quickly degrades. Most coco water would not survive 24 hours as it can ferment in a matter of hours. Under chilled conditions, however, it can last up to three days.

Capariño’s goal is to prolong the shelf life of coco water without using any preservatives or additives that will keep it 100-percent natural.

To address this problem, Capariño’s team designed and developed a village level coconut water processing system that aims to provide Filipino coconut farmers with a new income generating opportunity by processing unutilized coconut water. The system aims to process coco water taken from mature coconut pasteurization, which eliminates diseases causing microorganisms and inactivates spoiling agents that would usually affect the shelf life of the product.

As part of PHilMech’s project, a village-level coconut water processing technology incubation facility was established at the Department of Agriculture-Regional 5 (Bicol Region) office in Pili, Camarines Sur, with support from the World Bank through the Philippine Rural Development Project. This project was intended to showcase to potential investors of processing coco water.