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Are Coconuts Vegan? Coconut Harvesting Practises and Picker Welfare

What makes a food vegan? Sure, it’ll be from the plant kingdom – or at least plant-derived – and it absolutely must not contain any animal products… but is there more to it than that?

Every foodstuff that ends up on your plate has a history. It was grown somewhere and has been processed by someone. If any part of growing, harvesting or processing a food employs the use of or causes harm to animals, can it – should it – be called vegan?

Vegans today are more informed and conscientious than ever, thanks to the wealth of information at their fingertips. They want to know that their diet is cruelty free from field to plate, and they check. You guys have been getting in touch to ask about the origins and processing of our ingredients, and we applaud you for keeping us and our industry colleagues accountable. So, we’re nailing our colours to the mast for your peace of mind.

The Rise of the Coconut

Today, we’re talking coconuts. Coconut milk, water, flour and sugar are popular speciality food shop staples, and coconut oil hit trend status around 2015, exploding onto the market with celebrities and health gurus lauding its myriad of food and non-food uses. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of coconut-based products on the shelves rose 318%. People love coconuts.

But where are all the coconuts fuelling our national obsession coming from? The answer is mostly tropical Asia.  The harvesting practises common in a number of the top coconut-producing countries began attracting attention after videos started cropping up on Youtube of monkeys picking coconuts. These videos show pig-tailed macaques attached to leashes, scaling tall coconut palms to twist and pull the fruits free.

Monkey Business

Pig tailed macaques’ conservation status is vulnerable. This means their population is decreasing. A monkey handler explained that the coconut industry monkey workforce is made up of offspring of already trained macaques, young monkeys poached from the forest and nurslings, taken from mothers who – surplus to requirement – are shot.

It isn’t clear that all coconut picking monkeys are abused or neglected, although many reports suggest the training procedures  include punishment and that the monkeys are often so exhausted they faint. What is clear is that these working monkeys, regardless of how “well treated” they are, are denied autonomy, tethered nearly permanently, unable to socialise or breed naturally and made to work extremely hard (they can pick up to 1600 coconuts a day, versus a human’s hundred).

Bonsan: ABSOLUTELY Vegan

At Bonsan, we love the healthy, flavourful properties of the coconut and use it in many of our products. You guys are particularly enamoured with our coconut chips, which come in a range of moreish sweet and savoury flavours. Quite rightly, you want to know that our supply chain is monkey-free. We’re here for that.

Here’s the lowdown on the practises of our coconut farmers, and a little more on what we do to support animal welfare in our supply countries.

Where:

Sri Lanka

Tools:

Human pickers use long plucking sticks topped with secure curved knives for freeing the coconuts. Absolutely no monkeys are involved in any part of our coconut growing, harvesting or processing.

Coconuts → Chips:

We blanch, slice, favour and dry fresh coconut kernels to make our tasty, crunchy chips.

 

Animal Welfare:

  • Our coconut farmers allow free grazing and protection of over 100 cows on their estates.
  • As organic practitioners, our farmers don’t use harmful pesticides, fungicides or fertilisers, protecting smaller animals from insects down to soil microbes. They also prohibit stalk and straw burning to protect insects at all stages of the life cycle.
  • No animals are used in ploughing, transportation or harvesting of our coconuts.

Human Welfare:

Trading one ethical problem for another isn’t good enough, which is why we’re just as concerned for the welfare of our human workers.

  • Workers on our suppliers’ farms have free accommodation, facilities and solar power. They have access to free medical care and weekly clinics.
  • During the harvest period, pickers receive all food and drink for free, as well as a nutritious energy snack and all-you-can-eat coconuts! All the workers enjoy a New Year party together.
  • Our coconut farmers support other farms in the area, purchasing goods at fair trade prices and running Organic Farm and Fair Trade Societies. They proudly train others in modern organic cultivation practises.

You can rest assured that our coconut chips are Absolutely Vegan. Are there other ingredients in our products you’d like to know more about? Get in touch here or over on Social Media.

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