Coconut People Profile: Dr Dan Etherington

04 September 21

Dr Dan Etherington, an Agricultural Economist at the Australian National University in Canberra, first real exposure to the potential and plight of coconut palm, “the tree of life”, was in Sri Lanka in 1976, while attending an international rubber conference he took the opportunity to visit all the perennial crop research institutes: tea, rubber and coconut. It was exposure to the coconut industry that changed everything … “It stunned me. I was amazed, fascinated, surprised and shocked” “I was amazed by the palm itself: that it should produce regular bunches of large fruit all year round; that it had a life span akin to that of a healthy human. The fruit itself could be divided into a wide range of products; the husk could be made into coir fibre products; the shell into tools, ornaments, charcoal and activated carbon. Then there was the nutritious juice followed by the flesh which had delicious milk, cream, oil and desiccated coconut. Then I watched with fascination as a man climbed a palm to gather the sweet nectar or toddy from the young flowers (inflorescence). A little later I took time out to relax at a beautiful resort where the décor had a coconut theme. All the structural pillars were made of polished coconut trunks. It was stunning.”

Dan was surprised to find that the coconut farmers were poor, given the number of different coconut products and noticed lot of empty land under the palms. Down-stream processing was another shock,  the conversion of the beautiful clean white flesh of a mature coconut into smoky, dirty, copra, the rivers of dark brown oil that flowed from the copra and into refining, bleaching and deodorising (RBD) processes, Sites making coconut-shell charcoal with their smoke, dirt and evidence of child labour and sites making and weaving coir products out of coconut husk, all suggested a tropical version of the industrial revolution two centuries earlier in England. These early coconut experiences and thoughts were to stay with Dan in the years to come.

In 1992 a village soap maker in Mozambique appealed to a visiting consultancy team led by Dan come up with a method of producing oil directly from his community’s coconuts. Later that year Dan learnt that the people of a remote Tuvalu island in the centre of the south Pacific had long ago discovered how to cold press coconut oil from sun-dried coconut. However the copra trade and cheap imported vegetable oils had ‘killed’ this indigenous technology.

These events were to shape the next period of Dan’s life, for the benefit of thousands of other ‘coconut people’ in tropical countries around the world.

Dr Dan Etherington was born (1936) in Kenya where his parents were farmers. Following High School in the UK and National Service in Kenya, he studied Economics at Rhodes University in South Africa (where he met his wife, Maureen), and Agricultural Economics at Cornell and Stanford Universities in the USA. He taught at the University of Nairobi until 1972 when he was appointed to the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

At the ANU, Dan was heavily involved in teaching and research with the Master’s degree program in Agricultural Development Economics. This gave him exposure to the agricultural sectors throughout SE Asia and the Pacific. He has been a consultant to the World Bank, FAO, ICRAF and the Commonwealth Secretariat, on the economics of the rubber, coconut, tea industries and agroforestry in the region.

His studies of the coconut industries in Asia, Africa & the South Pacific led him to seek an alternative processing technology to the crude extractive copra export trade. In collaboration with the CSIRO, he teased out the complexities of ‘moisture assisted’ expelling.

In 1994 Dan founded Kokonut Pacific (KP) as a for-profit social enterprise and he retired from the ANU in 1997 to commercialise the Direct Micro Expelling (DME®) technology he had invented. In 2004 KP formed Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands (KPSI – a Joint Venture). In 2013 he established the Niulife Foundation.

Dan is married to Maureen. They have three adult children plus ten grandchildren. The families are Christians and are involved with their churches and with the NGO Tearfund Australia where Dan served as a Board member for about 15 years from its founding in 1978.

Highlights from a remarkable career in coconut impact;

  • DME® was awarded a Medal by EXPO2000 in Germany as a sustainable “World Project”.
  • 2006 his Solomon Islands work won the Asia Pacific Forum for Environment & Development (APFED) Gold Award for ‘Rehabilitating a rural economy with virgin coconut oil production’.
  • 2008 Dan was awarded an AM (Member of the Order of Australia) for his innovations in small-scale coconut processing, contributions to sustainable agriculture and economic development in the South Pacific region.
  • Dan featured in two ABC TV programs, the New Inventors and Landline (2015).
  • 2018 Kokonut Pacific was declared the Ethical Enterprise of the Year.

Dr Dan Etherington was featured on ABC’s ‘Landline’ program – July 19 2015.

The documentary talks about how Kokonut Pacific is directly helping the rural communities of the Solomon Islands by providing them with a means of income through the utilisation of their coconuts.


To connect with Dr Etherington please email us at

Selected Publications

2016 ‘Coconut Comeback – A Sea Change? Innovation to Realise the Potential of Virgin Coconut Oil’ Presentation at APCC Cocotech Conference, Sept. Bali, Indonesia

2006 “Bringing Hope to Remote Island Communities with Virgin Coconut Oil Production”, in Coconut revival: new possibilities for the ‘tree of life’ Proceedings of the International Coconut Forum, (Cairns, Queensland, Australia, 22-24/11/2005). ACIAR Proceedings No. 125, Pp 57 – 64.

2001 and Mahendrarajah, S. “Reclaiming the Tree Of Life: Coconut in the South Pacific” The Future of Perennial Crops: Investment and Sustainability in the Humid Tropics Conference Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire 5-9 Nov 2001.

1998 and Zegelin, S., and White, I. ‘Oil Extraction from Grated Coconut: Real-time Moisture Content Measurement and its Impact on Oil Production Efficiency’. Tropical Science, 38. 1997 and Mahendrarajah, S. ‘Coconut processing and economic development in the South Pacific’. Journal of South Pacific Agriculture, Vol. 4 No. 1&2.

1993 & K. Forster. Green Gold: the Political Economy of China’s post-1949 Tea Industry Oxford University Press, Hong Kong. pp xx + 270.
1992 & team Mozambique: A Strategic Action plan for the Rehabilitation of the Coconut Industry. Commonwealth Secretariat, IDU, October. pp v + 318.

1992 & K. Forster. `The structural transformation of Taiwan’s tea industry’. World Development Vol. 20, No.3,.

1990 `An Economic analysis of a plant density experiment for tea in China.’ Tropical Agriculture, Vol. 67 No.3.

1984 and P J Matthews, MULBUD. A computer package for the economic analysis of multi-period & multi-crop farm budgets.

1983 ‘Approaches to the economic evaluation of agroforestry farming systems’. Agroforestry Systems. 2 (4).
1980 and Abdullah B. Sepien ‘Economic Efficiency with Traditional and New Inputs on Smallholder Rubber Holdings in Malaysia’ Oxford Agrarian Studies. Vol.9.

1977 ‘A Stochastic Model for the Optimal Replacement of Rubber Trees’. Australian Journal of Agric. Economics, Vol.21, No.1.

1973 Smallholder Tea Production in Kenya: An Econometric Analysis, (East African Literature Bureau, Nairobi). Pp xiii + 151 1965 ‘Projected changes in Urban and Rural Population in Kenya and the Implications for Development Policy’. The East African Economic Review, Vol. 1, New Series No. 2, Pp. 65 – 84. Personal footnote

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