The coconut tree has long been considered as the “Tree of Life” and for good reasons. All the parts of the tree can sustain a human life—the coconut fruit as food, the coconut juice is better than water as it very nutritious, the palms and trunks can be used to make shelter among many more. In short, it can supply man’s basic needs for survival. In fact, even the wastes from coconuts, such as its husks, are important in many people’s lives.
And Senator Cynthia Villar, through the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance of Villar SIPAG, has turned coconut wastes into a viable source of livelihood and income for many communities. In doing so has also helped in waste management efforts in the country.
“There are two-fold benefits in turning waste coconut husks into something useful, we got rid of garbage that used to litter our streets and clog our rivers and waterways. Secondly, we helped residents by providing them with livelihood and additional source of income. It’s a win-win for people and the environment,” said Villar who is chairperson of both the Senate Committees on Agriculture and the Environment.
Villar SIPAG’s coconet weaving enterprises convertwaste coconut husks intococonets, which are used as riprap materials in construction projects to prevent soil erosion. Vista Land buys the coconets for its housing subdivisions.
The workers extract fiber and coco peat from the waste coconut husks using a decorticating machine, which can extract fiber from up to 8,000 husks of coconuts daily. The fibers are then made into twines by women workers. Each twine is eight meters long. Another group of workers weave the loom of twines and within two hours they can weave one roll measuring one meter by 50 meters that can earn for them 200 pesos. The coconets cost 2,000 pesos per roll.
The coco peat or dusts extracted by the same machine are mixed with household wastes to make organic fertilizers. All the fertilizers produced are distributed all over the country and given free to farmers and urban gardeners. These have become in demand during the pandemic when the popularity of growing one’s food and vegetable gardening dramatically increased.
The people who are involved in makingcoconets and organic fertilizers have made it a viable source of income. Thus, they are committed to it. “One of my learnings as a social entrepreneur is that we really have to put a income component in our projects for them to be successful or sustainable. Otherwise, people will be hesitant or half-hearted to participate,” cited Villar.
According to Villar, their coco wastes project at also demonstrates how technological innovation can improve people’s lives. In coconet-weaving, it’s the decorticating machine invented by Dr. JustinoArboledathat paved the way for the production of the coconets from waste coconut husks.
“Dr. Arboleda’sinvention has won awards. It is a good example of how a simple invention is now the source of livelihood of many families and has helped many cities get rid of wastes cause floods and pollute rivers and waterways,” said Villar.
It was in fact the persistent flooding in her home city of Las Piñas that brought attention to the notorious role of coco wastes in the problem. Villar said when they took a closer look and studied what’s causing the floods, they discovered the culprit—waste coco husks, thrown away by itinerant buko (coconut) vendors.
“Las Piñas River has become a big dumping area of waste coconut husks, which caused the clogging of the riverways. So we thought of controlling the wastes with the people’s cooperation. We designated areas where coconut vendors can bring or deposit waste coconut husks. Then we turned those as raw materials for coconet weaving enterprise that we put up,” the senator said. Besides the coconets, even the coco dust became a raw material mixed with household wastes to make organic fertilizer.
Indirectly, the coconet enterprise is also supporting farmersall over the country because they don’t have to buy fertilizer. It also boosts organic agriculture in the country.Incidentally, November is ‘Organic Agriculture Month’ by virtue of Proclamation No. 1030, which cites organic farming as an effective tool for development, environmental conservation, and protection of the health of farmers, consumers and the general public.
Villar is an active proponent of organic agriculture. In fact, Villar-authored Organic Agriculture Bill has been passed in the Senate on June 1. Senate Bill No. 1318 will introduce the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a more affordable and accessible certification system for organic products. It amends Republic Act No. 10068 (The Organic Agriculture Act of 2010) will provide the much-needed impetus to support the growth of organic agriculture in the country.
As an environmentalist and social entrepreneur, Villar is continuously searching for ways and means to provide livelihood to Filipinos that also help protect the environment. Besides waste coconut husks, the raw materials used in Villar’sother livelihood projects are all from wastes. These are water hyacinths for the waterlily handicraft-weaving enterprise and the handmade paper factory; kitchen and garden wastes for the organic fertilizer composting facility; and plastic wastes for the waste plastic recycling factory that produces school chairs. The senator has set up over 3,000 livelihood projects nationwide.
Villar believes that there should be greater private sector and public participation in the development waste management programs. Her projects are implemented by Villar SIPAG in partnerships with numerous government departments/agencies, private sector groups and companies. It has established barangay-based livelihood enterprises that are models of proper waste management and good examples of how garbage can be turned into useful end-products.