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EDITORIAL: Save Coconut Industry

In a recent press conference, Agriculture Secretary William Dar bared that damage in the field of agriculture attributable to typhoons that hit the country in 2019 has reached about P16 billion. This was 53 percent lower than the losses incurred due to typhoons in 2018, he claimed.

The agriculture chief also said that “the steep decline could be attributed to the agency’s constant monitoring of natural disasters which enabled officials to advise farmers and fisherfolk to take the necessary steps to cut possible losses.”

To a certain extent, the Agriculture Secretary is correct. Proactive moves particularly of local government units preparatory to impending calamities which have been disseminated by the weather experts through the media have proven helpful.

There is something disturbing however insofar as reference to the volume of the loss of production in specific fields. Only losses in rice, corn, livestock and high value crops were mentioned.

Notably missing are data about the status of the coconut industry. Was this by design or a simple inadvertence?

This is being asked in the light of the observation it seems the coconut sector of agriculture no longer draws care and concern of the economic managers.

For years, the coconut industry has been craving for government attention. There are even indicators that coconut farmers are urged to abandon copra making and to focus instead their manufacturing and marketing efforts on other coconut byproducts.

Entrepreneurs ventured in wine making (lambanog) which suffered a major blow due to publicized deaths of several persons caused by drinking such liquor. Others also tried making coconut vinegar but although health wise it is more advisable to consume than those synthetically made vinegars, public support to a natural vinegar pales compared to the already popular artificial products with known brand names. Processed coconut milk has already hit the markets but just how it is accepted by the public is yet to be known, considering that it primarily uses a synthetic, mixing coconut milk only as a flavor.

The government seems to adopt a left handed approach in encouraging coconut farmers to plant more coconut trees to the extent of providing new varieties of the seedlings like “tacunan”, and yet it is failing in providing profitable markets. The situation is very discouraging. A piece of unprocessed coconut commands only about five pesos in the markets. Of late, a kilo of copra sells locally to middlemen at about P20.

To supposedly help the coconut farmers, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and DA are encouraging use of young coconuts during big gatherings. Direct coconut marketing to oil mills and desiccator plants is also being promoted.

All of these however have yet to be realized, more particularly in the Camarines provinces. There is even no specific site for the supposed direct buying oil mills or desiccators. Right now, there is no known locally based cooperative that caters exclusively to the marketing needs of the coconut farmers.

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