Michael Swaby, 54, of Crescent, St. Mary, Jamaica, has been passionate about growing coconuts since the age of 17. In November 2022, he was nominated for the title by the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) for his use of sustainable practices on his 38-acre farm. He was then voted the World’s Best Innovative Coconut Farmer at the 50th International COCOTECH Conference (ICC) and Exhibition held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Swaby was named from a field of entries comprising 21 coconut-producing nations.
Swaby said it was difficult to believe he could outdo so many other countries, which he believed to be far ahead of him in regard to farming practices.
He participated in regional training provided by the CIB together with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Scientific Research Council (SRC), and the European Union (EU). He was then chosen to help others in his community with what he had learned and was tasked with the continual development of their farming practices.
When Swaby inherited the farm from his father in the 1980s, most of the property consisted of woodland, which was cleared to make room for bananas and coconuts, the most feasible crops for St. Mary at the time.
One of the major innovations implemented by Swaby, and something he learned from the training program, was not to waste anything. For example, he sells coconut husks as compost material, a plus in that he has always been concerned about discovering ways to profit from waste materials.
Other innovations at Swaby’s farm include tilapia fishponds that serve as sources of water during drought periods, intercropping with bananas, plantains, apples, mangoes, and other crops, while also raising goats, chickens, and pigs. Swaby and his ten workers harvest over 1,000 coconuts every week, and he also bottles coconut water for the market.
Swaby currently serves as the president of the Crescent Farmers’ Group and mentors other farmers. Being named the world’s most innovative coconut farmer has been good for his business, he said, as more people are becoming aware of what he is doing in terms of sustainable farming.
Photo: JIS/Michael Sloley