Cocopepper

Monks, monkeys and agriculture: the journey to co-existence

Allowing pepper to grow on coconut tree as a live support allows farmers to minimise risk against severe monkey pest issues.

Use Case

More than 80% of the 2 million Sri Lankan coconut producers are smallholders. The livelihoods of these farmers are increasingly threatened due to fast-growing monkey pest populations. Without monkeys, a farmer can harvest 75 coconuts per year from a single tree. With monkeys, the farmers may not harvest any.Buddhist smallholder farmers are desperate for a solution that aligns with their religious values and financial limitations. Harming monkeys is considered unethical, translocating them is ineffective, sterilizing them achieves little in the short term and deterring them with ultrasonic sound is dangerous to human health.Largely due to irresponsible garbage disposal, global monkey populations are rising. Smallholder coconut producers need a solution.

Potential

We believe that black pepper can come to the rescue. Production costs are low, global demand is surging and, most importantly, monkeys do not eat it. Despite all this, pepper is only cultivated on 2.5% of Sri Lanka’s agricultural land. Why aren’t coconut farmers spreading their production risks and growing pepper vines on their coconut trees? According to the farmers, there are two key reasons. First, the vines grow too high. Second, they make it impossible to climb the trees and harvest the coconuts. Our affordable product overcomes these two limitations. It enables coconut farmers to cap the pepper vines at an economically optimal height as well as safely and non-destructively climb past them. Our product will not eradicate monkeys. More satisfyingly, it will promote coexistence.

Business Case

Our target market is monkey-effected smallholder coconut growers. The market is currently untapped but these producers have very limited capital. The eight farmers we interviewed had a median willingness to pay of 3000 rupees (~20 USD). We believe we can profitably sell our product at this price by manufacturing it locally from recycled plastics. Our strategy is initially to market our product locally and then expand to national and eventually international markets. We have a good relationship with monkey-effected coconut farmers right next to our university. We plan to work with them to refine the product, then market it face-to-face in nearby villages and expand from there.

Objectives:

  1. Risk minimization. Pepper is one of the few crops not terrorized by monkeys. It can safeguard the profitability of coconut farmers.
  2. Land productivity. Locally, intercropping boosts profitability. Globally, it promotes food security and reduces land clearing.
  3. Workplace safety. Making maintaining and harvesting pepper and coconut safer will combat increasing labour scarcity.

Team Cocopepper

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Our Team

Monks, monkeys and agriculture: the journey to coexistence / Published January 6, 2017 by Sam Coggins

Monks, monkeys and agriculture: the journey to coexistence

In all ways but one, I thoroughly enjoyed my semester abroad in Sri Lanka. It was initially pretty tough being away from friends and family in Australia. My three roommates were not able to speak much English, rice and curry for every meal was inescapable and I could never find the hot water tap in the shower (turns out it doesn’t exist). However, Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with beautiful people. It quickly became my home as everyone made me feel so welcome, including our teammate Amila. Everyone except for one group.

I never got along with one group of locals. They snarled at me in the corridors of the student hostel. They came to my room uninvited and ate my rice, cashew nuts, powdered milk and ornamental cactus. One time they took my water bottle, it didn’t even have water in it. Yes, this group of locals, was a group monkeys.

Following my passion for agriculture, I soon learnt that I was not the only individual struggling to coexist with Sri Lankan monkeys. I spent most of my weekends (and many of my uni weekdays) touring the country’s diverse agricultural sector. I listened to a papaya producer lament about crops and sprinkler systems destroyed by monkeys. I watched a dairy farmer angrily chase monkeys from his underperforming herds. Most crushingly, I stood next to a smallholder farmer as he pointed up to the naked crown of his monkey-raided coconut tree.

Smallholder coconut growers appear to be worst affected by the ‘monkey menace’. Coconuts should be harvested when they are the size of a football. However, monkeys pluck them when they are the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Sometimes they eat them, sometimes they drop them on the ground below. Without monkeys, farmers can harvest up to 75 coconuts from a single tree in just one year. With growing monkey populations, it is common for them to not harvest any.

In Australia, pest control is very simple. You shoot it. If not, you poison it. However, in Sri Lanka, neither strategy is an option. Most of the the 70% Buddhist population in Sri Lanka feel uncomfortable harming animals, let alone killing them. One farmer, Mr. Upali, explained to us that he stopped using his expensive air rifle to deter monkeys when he found out that a monkey was accidentally killed with the rubber bullets. A slingshot is now the only tool that Mr. Upali has at his disposal to protect his 4.5 acres of cropland. Indeed, in Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries, the challenge is not to eradicate ‘pests’. The challenge is to coexist with them.

For weeks, Amila, James and I struggled to develop a much-needed tool for these Buddhist smallholder coconut growers. We pursued all sorts of ideas; solar powered ultrasonic deterrents, electric fruit nets, pepper spray with motion sensors etc. Probably the most creative was an invisible virtual fence positioned by GPS and applied using electric collars. However, none of our solutions conformed to the Buddhist values or financial constraints of our stakeholders.

That was until we developed 'the wedding dress'…

Our Mission

Our mission is to serve smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Our Background

Monks, monkeys and agriculture: the journey to coexistence / Published January 6, 2017 by Sam Coggins

Monks, monkeys and agriculture: the journey to coexistence

In all ways but one, I thoroughly enjoyed my semester abroad in Sri Lanka. It was initially pretty tough being away from friends and family in Australia. My three roommates were not able to speak much English, rice and curry for every meal was inescapable and I could never find the hot water tap in the shower (turns out it doesn’t exist). However, Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with beautiful people. It quickly became my home as everyone made me feel so welcome, including our teammate Amila. Everyone except for one group.

I never got along with one group of locals. They snarled at me in the corridors of the student hostel. They came to my room uninvited and ate my rice, cashew nuts, powdered milk and ornamental cactus. One time they took my water bottle, it didn’t even have water in it. Yes, this group of locals, was a group monkeys.

Following my passion for agriculture, I soon learnt that I was not the only individual struggling to coexist with Sri Lankan monkeys. I spent most of my weekends (and many of my uni weekdays) touring the country’s diverse agricultural sector. I listened to a papaya producer lament about crops and sprinkler systems destroyed by monkeys. I watched a dairy farmer angrily chase monkeys from his underperforming herds. Most crushingly, I stood next to a smallholder farmer as he pointed up to the naked crown of his monkey-raided coconut tree.

Smallholder coconut growers appear to be worst affected by the ‘monkey menace’. Coconuts should be harvested when they are the size of a football. However, monkeys pluck them when they are the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Sometimes they eat them, sometimes they drop them on the ground below. Without monkeys, farmers can harvest up to 75 coconuts from a single tree in just one year. With growing monkey populations, it is common for them to not harvest any.

In Australia, pest control is very simple. You shoot it. If not, you poison it. However, in Sri Lanka, neither strategy is an option. Most of the the 70% Buddhist population in Sri Lanka feel uncomfortable harming animals, let alone killing them. One farmer, Mr. Upali, explained to us that he stopped using his expensive air rifle to deter monkeys when he found out that a monkey was accidentally killed with the rubber bullets. A slingshot is now the only tool that Mr. Upali has at his disposal to protect his 4.5 acres of cropland. Indeed, in Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries, the challenge is not to eradicate ‘pests’. The challenge is to coexist with them.

For weeks, Amila, James and I struggled to develop a much-needed tool for these Buddhist smallholder coconut growers. We pursued all sorts of ideas; solar powered ultrasonic deterrents, electric fruit nets, pepper spray with motion sensors etc. Probably the most creative was an invisible virtual fence positioned by GPS and applied using electric collars. However, none of our solutions conformed to the Buddhist values or financial constraints of our stakeholders.

That was until we developed 'the wedding dress'…

Our Team

Our Mission

Our mission is to serve smallholder farmers in developing countries.Read More

Our Background

Read More

The information contained here represents student project ideas developed as the result of brainstorming activities during Round 1 of the TFF Challenge. It does not represent any final business plans or commercial products.