• Challenge and opportunity–same Chinese character

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    Jose V. RomeroThank the Good Lord that the typhoon victims from the Eastern Visayas will not starve to death, thanks to the spirit of solidarity exhibited by the citizens of the world. Really quite heartwarming despite the glitches and the breakdown in the delivery system of aid from donors.

    So what now? In China, it is said that there is only one character for challenge and opportunity. It’s like saying that a glass can look half empty or half full depending on the outlook of individuals who are naturally born as optimists or pessimists. We hope to be in the middle of the road.

    What is the source of our optimism? Simply that this tragedy has captured the attention of the world, the international funding institutions, nongovernmental organization (NGOs), rich corporations and individuals, etc. Indeed never has the area received so much international interest since General Douglas MacArthur waded on the shores of Leyte with that ringing announcement that “I have returned.”

    Period of cornucopia
    With the above institutions straining at the leash to come to the aid of the stricken area, there is the need to give direction to the direct all these towards its full reconstruction and rehabilitation and then promote greater levels of productivity, incomes and employment after. It will be recalled that the late forties and early fifties in this country—the period of reconstruction and rehabilitation of this country whose capital city was the most devastated city in the world next only to Warsaw, causing tens of thousands of casualties, was also a period of cornucopia when international aid mostly from the US flooded the economy.

    This was followed by outstanding economic growth, thanks mostly to the inflow of war damage funding, back pay for bureaucrats, Japanese reparations payments, etc. which provided quite a stimulus that jumpstarted. In fact the local economy could have really taken off had not these fund inflows been attended by the usual graft.

    Indeed from the depths of despair the country climbed back to the pinnacle of hope.

    How can the Eastern Visayas economy be stimulated after such devastation? As former head of the Philippine Coconut Authority who had concentrated on oilseeds policy-making in my stint at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we can only offer the suggestion that the rehabilitation, reconstruction and more importantly the restructuring of the coconut industry in the Eastern Visayas offers a window of opportunity to restore nay improve the quality of life of the Waray community.

    Central to the rehabilitation of the Eastern Visayas would clearly be the transformation of the mainstay of its economy, namely the coconut industry, which continues to suffer from exploitation and benign neglect. A template for its development would be the Federal Land Development Authority, commonly known as Felda, which the Malaysian government designed to handle the resettlement of rural poor into government developed new areas and organize smallholder crops. This has now morphed into very lucrative palm oil plantations that have provided millions of Malaysian farmers with income and employment opportunities.

    In this country coconut based farming systems and the so-called Nucleus Estates can also do so much to uplift the lot of the marginalized coconut farmers in Leyte and Samar.

    Promoting the formation of effective farm organization that will consolidate production, marketing and credit management among the farmers will surely pave the way for the formation of more efficient nucleus-estate management systems which, hopefully, will evolve into larger-scale diversified production and marketing organizations.

    Networks to support farm organizations
    There is need to establish networks that will provide support mechanisms to farm organizations along the lines of credit and technical and marketing activities. These networking systems will serve as channels for tapping resources in both government and private sectors to improve the farmers’ productivity and bargaining position.

    Focusing on the needs of farmers with efforts geared to increase farm productivity through rehabilitation, by planting/replanting and crop diversification under the coconut interspaces will guarantee higher farm income. Other priorities will include increasing access to resources such as farm inputs, credit and technological advances; promoting labor intensive village-level enterprises; encouraging cooperative activities especially in production and marketing and facilitating establishment of post-harvest facilities.

    Finally, adopting the full value recovery of the coconut – the coir, shell, water and meat within farm gates through intermediate and appropriate technology will guarantee that the coconut farmer will no longer be the residual claimant of the value of his product, thanks mainly to the circuitous marketing channels controlled by compradors and loansharks.

    To accomplish the above development paradigm, no less than the massive infusion of coco levy funds will be required! This development model for the industry is where the coco levy funds can be use can deployed optimally.

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