St Mary native is world’s most innovative coconut farmer
When Michael Swaby started his journey as a coconut farmer at age 17, he never imagined that the sustainable practices he employs to maintain his 38-acre farm located in the scenic hills of Crescent, St Mary, would one day make him the best in the world.
Swaby, now 54, was voted the 'World's Best Innovative Coconut Farmer' at a conference in Malaysia last November, topping entries from 21 coconut-producing countries.
"It was shocking... hard to believe. A lot of the other countries, I didn't know them and I thought they were more ahead of us in terms of practices and all the different [activities] that they were doing. I didn't have any idea that I would be even close to competing with them," Swaby told JIS.
Detailing some of his innovative measures that contributed to the international accolade, Swaby said, "I don't waste anything... even the very husk, we sell them back as compost material. Some of the training that we got was to use everything back from the nut".
The model farmer, who has benefited from training offered by the Coconut Industry Board, said he has always sought to find ways to make money from waste generated on his farm.
"Even now, I am trying to use the shell to do things that make use of it and every part of the coconut itself. There are things that we can do beyond the coconut oil and coconut water," Swaby said.
In addition to coconuts, his fruitful 'Swaby's Farm' also features fish ponds in which he raises tilapia. The ponds double as a water source in dry times. Swaby also practises intercropping, and plants bananas, plantains, apples, mangoes and others, while also rearing livestock, such as goats, chickens and pigs.
With his up to 10 workers, he reaps more than 1,000 coconuts per week, which he supplies to customers in St Ann and St Mary on Wednesdays and Fridays. He also bottles the coconut water for other markets.
Swaby has come a far way from when he got the farm from his father in the 1980s.
"Most of the land was in total woods, so we had to cut it down. Banana and coconut were the most feasible crops in St Mary at that particular time, so we ventured into banana and then later we did both banana and coconuts," he recalled.
Today, the veteran farmer is the president of the Crescent Farmers' Group, where he mentors and guides other farmers. He points out that receiving the title of 'World's Best Innovative Coconut Farmer' has not only been an honour but also a boost to his business.
"The most important part of it is to get the highlight... business is booming a little bit more and people are seeing what I am doing. Even though I am so far off the road and hidden, I am a little exposed," Swaby says.