What Is Cocopeat?
history and meaning of cocopeat
14 January 2016
Coco peat or Coir Pith or Coir Dust is the spongy tissue found in the mesocarp (husk) of the coconut fruit. Those who have experience in dehusking coconuts can remember it as the brown particles that fall down while dehusking or removing the fibres from a coconut. The term cocopeat was first proposed by E.P.Hume,
Who while working at the famed Federal Experiment Station (now Tropical Agriculture Research Station) in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, wrote for the journal ‘Economic Botany’, an article titled ‘Coir Dust or Cocopeat – a By-product of the Coconut’ in 1949. He gave the name as he considered the name ‘dust’ to be implying an undesirable quality for this alternative to horticultural peat. He was the first to experiment cocopeat for different horticultural applications such as mulching, seed germination and rooting of plant cuttings. He even showed that plants grown on water leached from the cocopeat grew better than plants that grew from tap water.
Hume’s article was only the second article focussing on cocopeat. The first article focussing on cocopeat was written twenty years before Hume by Dr. Joachim, A.W.R. (1929) called ‘The manurial value and decomposibility of coconut fibre dust’ published in Tropical Agriculturalist in then Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Dr. Joachim is the founder president of Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka (SSSSL) and first Ceylonese Director of Agriculture. He was a soil scientist who investigated the manurial values of different plant materials. Dr Joachim first showed the high absorption and soil improvement property of coir dust. In the twenty years between Dr. Joachim and E.P. Hume, there were only three or four articles with passing reference to coir dust. Experiments continued in Netherlands and Australia and in the 1980s cocopeat as an industry started in Sri Lanka and in India in the 1990s. It wasn’t until 2000 that new methodologies and machineries helped in making cocopeat a mainstream industry.
Coming back to cocopeat, you may be wondering how many coconuts need to be dehusked to make that 5 kg block of cocopeat! Well, it takes about 30-40 coconut husks to make a 5 kg block of cocopeat. Of course, Dehusking alone does not yield so much cocopeat. The actual coir dust comes from the by product generated from a coir defibring factory, where the long coir fibres are extracted. The cleaned out short fibres along with the spongy coir dust particles, called coir waste, becomes the raw material for cocopeat.
A typical coir defibring factory will produce the equivalent of 1-2 tonnes of cocopeat everyday. In and near the town of Pollachi alone, where our factory is situated, it is estimated that there are around 500 coir defibring factories. The coir waste once used to be dumped in open spaces and set afire. Then when cocopeat factories initially came up, they obtained the coir waste free of cost. Now screened coir dust from the coir defibring factories are sold sometimes at over Rs. 3000 per tractor load. In fact, coir defibring factories sell the cocopeat according to the changing price of coconut husk, so that their profitability is not affected by unstable coconut husk prices.
The screened moist cocopeat from the coir factories are further processed by washing, drying and compacting to create the final product. The compression is done using high pressure hydraulic machines. The cocopeat can be pressed into 5 kg bales, 650 g briquettes, discs, coins, slabs, tiles etc. depending upon the buyer’s requirement, so that the transport and handling costs are reduced. Addition of water converts the bale back into soft dust for use as substrate.
Demand for cocopeat has only increased. Much of the processed cocopeat is exported, especially to South Korea, China, Australia, Netherlands, USA, UK, Germany, Russia, Spain, France, Kenya and UAE. A market for cocopeat is slowly developing in North India. Unfortunately, there is little awareness and use in the cocopeat producing areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the product is seen as a money spinner than as a valuable resource.