Coconut farmers are now the poorest people in the agriculture sector, much poorer than when they were 30 years ago.
This was the assessment of Danny Carranza, a coconut farmer and member the Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan).
Carranza blamed the coconut farmers’ poverty on the low copra prices, inability to intercrop and modernize, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which isolates some of them who are living in far-flung areas.
“If you’re going to compare, we are much poorer now than we were back in 1990,” said Carranza.
Carranza said the “crisis in coconut” that started in the 1990s was never resolved, but even worsened especially when farmers failed to diversify and intercrop before copra prices, dictated by world prices, crashed in 2019 and in the previous years.
“The price of copra is improving, reaching P16/kg from P8/kg last year, but that is still not enough,” Carranza said, adding that farmers’ income from a hectare of coconut plantation does not reach P10,000 anymore.
At present, about 95 percent of the 3.5 million hectares of coconut farms in the Philippines are meant to produce copra, which is the material for coconut oil manufacturing.
But with the collapse of the prices of coconut oil in the world market over the last two years, prices of copra have also dropped plunging farmers into deeper poverty.
According to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), prices of copra at farmgate as of October 15 stood at P21.86/kg, which is higher compared to P14.55/kg price level during the same day last year.
But Carranza said that it normally takes three to four years for coconut farmers to recover when a typhoon hits their plantation because coconut trees don’t recover fast. Several typhoons have devastated coconut trees lately.
“Farmers’ income is dictated by world prices, they don’t have enough funds to modernize their industry, and the government has failed to support them in the diversification of their coconut plantations,” Carranza said.
“Then things got worse because of climate change. And then, because of lockdown, a lot of farmers who live in far-flung areas were isolated and couldn’t deliver their produce,” he added.
In 2018, farmers working in coconut farms only received a daily nominal wage rate of P264, based on Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data.
To alleviate the current situation of coconut farmers, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has announced that it will soon distribute a P5,000 worth of assistance to coconut farmers, which will be withdrawn from the agency’s P24-billion stimulus package granted under ‘Bayanihan 2’.
The problem, according to Carranza, is that the assistance may only benefit farmers who own 1 hectare of coconut plantations or less.
The PCA is also setting aside a portion of its budget to finance on-farm and off-farm livelihood projects for coconut farmers such as intercropping and livestock.
Meanwhile, Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Eduardo Mora said the legal team of Senator Bong Go pledged to help coconut farmers push for provisions that they want to be included in the Coco Levy Act, the proposed law that will pave the way for the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund.
“It was the office of Senator Bong Go that informed us that the senate version of Coco Levy Act was already passed in third and final reading. But his legal team also assured to help us in the congress version of the law, in bicameral, and in the drafting of the IRR [implementing rules and regulation] of the law,” Mora told Business Bulletin.
Mora’s group, which represents more than a hundred thousand coconut farmers in the country, has been calling for increased farmers’ representation in the planned coconut trust fund management committee.
Coconut farmers also don’t want the funds to be handled by PCA, Mora said.
Business Bulletin already sought for Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s reaction regarding the farmers’ opposition of the Coco Levy Act, but he hasn’t responded yet.