THE commercial production of coconut water can help the ailing domestic coconut industry by providing another revenue source for marginalized farmers, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
“Coconut farmers are the poorest in the agriculture sector. But this time, we will use coconut to change the lives of coconut farmers in the country through the non-traditional coco water,” he said at the inauguration last Friday of the Coco Water Processing Technology Pilot Testing and Business Incubation Facility in Camarines Sur.
The DA chief said that coconut farmers should be given other ways to source income from coconuts—not relying too much on coconut oil, the cost of which has declined over the years.
Over the past three years, the government has begun harnessing the potential of coconut water production as an additional way to increase revenues from the coconut industry and improve lives of the smallholder coconut-farming sector.
One of the pilot projects is the Coco Water Processing Technology Pilot Testing and Business Incubation Facility, which uses machines developed by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech).
The prototypes were set up as village-level facilities near farming communities to be operated by farmer cooperatives. In this way, farmers will directly benefit and jobs will be created for the communities.
In order to maximize resources, Alcala said that funding from the coco levy would help ensure commercial viability of community-level cocowater production. He added that while processing coco water, the facility may also be modified to extract virgin coconut oil and manufacture coconut flour.
At present, the coconut industry discards about 85 percent of coconut water that could otherwise be conserved and processed into value-added products. The low recovery rate is traced to problems in prolonging shelf life and difficulty in transporting newly extracted cocowater from the mountains to the processing plants.
But PhilMech is optimistic that the cocowater extractor and pasteurizing machine it has developed will boost the livelihood of coconut farmers over the long to medium term.
The cocowater machine developed by the agency has a capacity of 2,000nuts and can produce about 500 liters of cocowater in one day. The pasteurized cocowater has a shelf life of one month if placed immediately in a refrigerator or cooling machine. Under the pasteurization method, food is heated to reduce pathogenic microorganisms to extend its shelf life.
The cocowater machine PhilMech developed costs around P600,000 or half the price of an imported unit. The unit can also be fabricated by domestic producers of farm machines.
Meanwhile, Alcala said that an extensive study—to be carried out over one year under the soon-to-commence Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) with a budget of P7.3 million—aims to come up with product and machine protocols that will serve as basis for the technology’s commercialization nationwide.
The project also aims to initiate supply chain linkages between coco water consolidators and possible small-scale processors.
Data from the Philippine Coconut Authority showed the Philippines exported nearly 4.49 million liters of fresh coconut water in the first quarter of 2012, up 300 percent from 1.12 million liters a year earlier.