Using our coconuts for stronger agriculture

Published June 27, 2022, 12:05 AM

by John Tria

#MINDANAO

John Tria
John Tria

Contrary to the belief of many, the coconut industry is the country’s largest agriculture subsector in terms of number of farmers. It provides livelihood to 2.5 million farmers with 3.6 million hectares planted to the crop.

At the moment, Philippine Coconut Authority data show an average national farmgate price hovering at ₱37 per kilo, up from the 2019 figure of about ₱15-₱20 per kilo with mill gate prices at round ₱45-₱47, up from 2019’s ₱22-₱23 per kilo (PCA 2019 Annual report). Annual production is at 14.7 million metric tons in 2018. Nationally, 69 of 82 provinces produce coconuts, with the largest coconut producing regions in Mindanao.

That said, coconut is a crop we grow very well, making us among the top five coconut producers in the world.

The growing potential for farms

What characterizes the coconut palm? Coconut is a perennial crop, in that we harvest its fruits and other products to make it productive. Many coconut lands are sloped areas not as conducive to other food crops, with the added benefit of helping stabilize soils since being a perennial crop, we need not replant annually and expose soil to erosion. Moreover, other cash crops like corn, cacao and coffee can be grown well and farm animals can be raised under the coconut tree’s shade, giving extra income to farmers. Empowered and diversified coconut farms have the potential to lift up Philippine agriculture and farm incomes as a whole.

Downstream industries will boost employment

Apart from growing the crop, it is in the processing of coconuts into other products that potential of coconut industry to create even more jobs and lift up Philippine agriculture in general. If manufacturing and processing industries of various types (not just copra, desiccated coconut and oil) like oleo chemicals, biodiesel and soap, coir and dust for soil conditioning, flour, activated carbon for filters and face masks, expect demand for the crop from farms to rise. This in turn, generates wealth for the farms and everyone in the value chain.

If more of these industries are promoted and established in the countryside particularly in the major coconut producing regions in Mindanao, I will expect farm gate prices to remain stable over time, and the number of families earning from coconuts and these other industries dependent on coconuts to rise even further, attracting more to do a “balik probinsya” and leave congested Metro Manila.

What matters therefore, is that we continue to inspire investment in developing these industries. If aggressively pursued, this development of the downstream coconut industry is our “agroindustrial complex.” Republic Act 1154 Republic Act No. 11524, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Act will pave the way for utilizating the coconut levy fund, and the recently signed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan (CFIDP) can be our a roadmap for development.

What else can be done?

It is clear that producing coconuts is going to be profitable and even more so if downstream industries that add value in processing the crop are expanded near areas where they are grown, especially in-Mindanao. Perhaps local trade and agribusiness groups, chambers of commerce and farmers cooperatives can proactively work together can look into promoting investment opportunities in the coconut processing and manufacturing sector in many areas. This will drive demand for the crop and inspire increased yields, implement technology, all translating to larger farm incomes. Investment roadshows can be undertaken and events promoted to introduce the world to such opportunities. Its time.

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