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Coconut shortage hurting Phuket retailers

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Coconut shortage hurting Phuket retailers | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Phuket grocers are struggling to keep coconut products on their shelves amid a nationwide shortage due to drought and an insect infestation in the heart of Thailand’s coconut country.

Supermarket giants Tesco Lotus and Big C both told the Phuket Gazette that their orders for coconut milk – a main ingredient in many Thai foods, especially desserts – are not being filled.

Ittipol Klasuk, dried food manager at Big C Phuket said, “We order coconut milk from Amphol Food Processing [distributors of Chao Koh and Roi Thai products] every three days, but they often cut our order. For example, we order 100 and get 25. And when we do get product on the shelves, people come and buy it up quickly, in bulk.”

The price of coconut milk in supermarkets has yet to reflect the increase in wholesale prices, both Tesco Lotus and Big C report.

This has not been true for small vendors in public markets that rely on fresh coconuts to make products. The price of these coconuts has skyrocketed from seven baht in July 2010 to 20.5 baht late last month.

Narunat Mongkol, head of public relations and marketing at Amphol, told the Gazette that they are currently unable to source enough coconuts domestically to fill orders and have begun importing from Indonesia.

“We have had to increase the price four baht per 50ml box of coconut milk since November 2010 and I can say that the price will go up again, as there is a shortage in Thailand and we are having to import from Indonesia – I just don’t know how much the price will go up or when,” he said.

The source of Thailand’s coconut woes is the meager Brontispa longissima, commonly known as the coconut hispine beetle.

The tiny stature of the insect, however, speaks nothing of its ability, in numbers, to devastate an entire industry.

Making its appearance in the middle of a two-year drought, the beetle has managed to severely damage or destroy more than 150,000 rai (about 35 per cent) of coconut plantations in Thailand’s southern Prachuap Khiri Khan province, according to Samri Chankird, a researcher with the provincial Agriculture Extension Office.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is known as the “coconut basket” of Thailand as it is by far the largest producer of coconuts in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates last year’s coconut production for the province at over 425,000 tonnes, nearly double that of Chumphon province, Thailand’s number two producer.

This year’s figures are expected to be much lower.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Brontispa longissima is native to Indonesia and was spread throughout the Southeast Asia-Pacific region in ornamental palm shipments.

The pest attacks more than 20 species of palm, with coconut being “the most favored host”, the FAO says. The beetle feeds on seedlings and the young leaves of mature coconut palms and can quickly destroy an adult tree.

At the forefront of the fight against the infestation is a research team from Kasetsart University in Bangkok working together with Amphol and the Ministry of Agriculture. Team leader Assistant Professor Kosol Charernsom has been testing a number of biological methods to combat the infestation over the past two months.

One such method is the use of Beauveria bassiana, a fungus that has proven effective as an insecticide. When the beetle comes into contact with its spores, they germinate and grow inside the insect, killing it within days. The fungus then emerges and spreads from the carcass.

Another weapon in the assault is Eocanthecona furcellata, a predatory “stink bug” being introduced by Prof Kosol’s team in “nurseries” throughout Prachuap’s coconut plantations to kill off the beetle.

A third method being used by the team is the parasitic Asecodes hispinarum insect, which is a natural enemy of the beetle, attacking it in the larval stage.

The team is having success in the testing phase and they are confident that the methods being used will eliminate the pest, enabling trees to recover and farmers to plant the new Coconut Sawi Number 1 hybrid, which is more resistant to drought and infestations, Prof Kosol said.

The hybrid, however, does nothing for the short term. “We could plant this new hybrid, but each tree takes five to eight years to mature. It’s more drought and insect resistant, and has better yields, but that will not help us now. We need to get rid of the beetle first and have adequate rainfall or the new trees will experience the same fate as the ones now,” he said.

The fight is a personal one, Prof Kosol says: “Thailand is a factory for food production. If we have to order raw material from producers in other countries, that is a shame. I’m a coconut farmer. I have farmers’ blood, so I must find the best way to treat these trees so they can survive.”

— N. Altstadt & S. Janyanon

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Business

Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub

Maya Taylor

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket - PHOTO: www.makemytrip.com

Industry officials are seeking the go-ahead for a project to transform over 140 rai of government land in Phuket into a world-leading medical hub. The project is budgeted at 3 – 4 billion baht, depending on which report you read. Kitkong Tantijaraswarodom, from the Federation of Thai Industries, believes the development of a medical and wellness hub in the sub-district of Mai Khao, north Phuket, will help revive the southern island’s battered economy. Phuket has become increasingly reliant on a steady flow of tourists over the past 2 decades.

The southern division of the FTI covers Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Patthalung, Surat Thani, Ranong, Satun, Chumphon, and Songkhla.

“The FTI will ask the government to green-light the project during the scheduled mobile cabinet meeting on the island on November 3.”

Kitkong says businesspeople in the south are anxious for the government to approve the project, which will provide both locals and foreign medical tourists with state-of-the-art medical care. The facility is expected to include long-term care, hospice and rehabilitation services, in addition to a dental hospital, sports therapy centre, and a medical training school for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical laboratory scientists.

The chair of the FTI’s southern chapter is also calling on officials to provide small and medium-sized businesses with additional support, in the form of access to loans, in order to deal with cash shortages.

“In the short term, the FTI wants the government to help SMEs, especially those in the tourism sector.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Phuket

Man’s body discovered hanged in a Phuket Town apartment

The Thaiger

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Man’s body discovered hanged in a Phuket Town apartment | The Thaiger

A man has been found hanged in Phuket Town apartment yesterday. Police are treating the cases as a suicide at the moment.

The man was found hanged from the apartment’s ceiling fan. His lifeless body was discovered around 11am after neighbours complained to the manager about the smell coming from the man’s room.

Police and the local Kusoldharm Foundation rescue workers attended the scene. Police later confirmed the incident happened in room on the 3rd floor of an apartment lock in Soi Phoonphol Soi 1, Talat Nuea in Phuket Town. Police said the man was 35-45 years of age and had a 29 year old girlfriend from Chumphon. He was paying 1,000 baht a month and had been renting the room for 2 months. Police estimate that the man had been dead for at least 3 days.

Police told media that the man had used, what appeared to be a dress, tied around his neck and then to the room’s roof fan. The apartment manager told police that he had been late on on his recent rent, speculating that the man may have been suffering financial hardship.

The man’s identity has not been released at this stage.

His body was taken to Vachira Hospital for an autopsy.

If you or anyone you know is in emotional distress, please contact the Samaritans of Thailand 24-hour hotline: 02 713 6791 (English), 02 713 6793 (Thai) or the Thai Mental Health Hotline at 1323 (Thai).

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Tourism

Bangkok Airways add 3 new local routes to their schedule

The Thaiger

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Bangkok Airways add 3 new local routes to their schedule | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Bangkok Airways' ATR72, servicing the re-introduced routes

Some domestic routes are being added as local routes continue to expand. This time Bangkok Airways has announced it’s resuming its Samui-Phuket, Phuket-Hat Yai and Phuket-Pattaya/Rayong (U-Tapao) flights.

The first additions to the schedule will be the Phuket-Samui flights resuming this Sunday, October 25, and the Phuket-Pattaya flights start again next Tuesday, October 27. The Phuket-Samui flights will be operating on Sundays and Wednesdays only on the airlines’ ATR72 turbo prop regional planes, same as before.

A casual search on the Bangkok Airways website, for a return flight from Phuket to Samui on November 1, then back to Phuket on November 8 indicates the cheapest fare (promo) is 2,430 baht. Coming back, the cheapest fare we found, again labelled ‘promo’, was 2,630 baht. Bangkok Airways operate as a “full service” airline and don’t compete with the country’s discount airlines. But they operate these three routes exclusively – like it or leave it.

Bangkok Airways say that the flights will be operated “with the highest preventive measures and standards”. Around the country the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand have eased a few of the onboard restrictions, including the start of catering services which were originally banned under the initial flight rules when domestic routes started flying again at the start of July.

The daily direct services between Phuket and Hat Yai are also being operated on the ATR72 aircraft. The flight to Ha Yai leaves Phuket at 8.40am and arrives at Hat Yai at 9:.45am. The return flights leave Hat Yai back to Phuket at 10.25am each day. The route was very popular for the airline before the ‘disruption’ when airlines had their fleets grounded in April.

The service between Phuket and U-Tapao, linking the party city with the party island, will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, again with the ATR72. Phuket to U-Tapao will leave at 12.10pm and then from U-Tapao to Phuket at 4pm on the three days. U-Tapao is about a 50 minute drive from Pattaya and the airport also serves the greater Rayong area.

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