Coconut farmers are now the poorest people in the agricultural sector, coconut farmer Danny Carranza, a member of the Kilusan para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan, said early his week.
He said 95 percent of the 3.5 million hectares of coconut farms in the Philippines are dedicated to the production of copra, the raw material for coconut oil manufacturing. But with the collapse of prices in the world market in the last two years, copra prices have plunged. “We are much poorer now than we were back in 1990,” he said.
Coconut farmers owning one hectare of coconut trees or less will be receiving P5,000 in assistance through the Department of Agriculture’s P24-billion stimulus package from Bayanihan 2. They are in the same category as the low-income workers in Metro Manila who lost their livelihood when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.
The crisis in the coconut industry actually started in the1990s when world oil prices fell and Filipino farmers ailed to adjust through diversification and intercropping, Carranza said. This was followed by several typhoons which destroyed coconut trees. Then came the lockdowns due to COVID-19which isolated and immobilized farmers in far-flung areas.
Most reports on Philippine agriculture have lately e rice industry, because rice happens to be our people’s staple food and any problem in the country’s rice supply sends market prices up as in 2016.
That price crisis in 2016 drew great public attention to the national budget for agriculture which has long been among the smallest among the various sectors of the national budget. In recent weeks, budget reports have focused mostly on public works projects , with some congressmen allegedly getting huge funds for their districts.
In 2020. the Department of Agriculture had a budget of only P65 billion, which explained why rice farmers did not have the support they needed by way of irrigation, high-yielding rice varieties, storage and marketing assistance. This year, the department asked for a budget of P280 billion for 2021, but is getting less than P67 billion.
We can expect no new irrigation services, not much planting assistance or marketing facilities to ensure we have enough rice for our people this year and in 2021. And the coconut industry will have to carry on as before – unless the present meager budget for the Department of Agriculture is somehow boosted in the Senate so that in the National Appropriation Bill that is signed by President Duterte in December, Philippine agriculture gets the attention it deserves.