THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is pilot testing community-level coco water processing technology in Camarines Sur as part of the government’s effort to create a sustainable and stable source of livelihood and income for thousands of Filipino coconut farmers.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said they have teamed up with the provincial government of Camarines Sur and the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture to pilot test the commercial viability of community-level coco water production using technology developed by the DA-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech).
The extensive study – to be carried out for a period of one year under the soon-to-commence Philippine Rural Development Project – aims to come up with product and machine protocols that will serve as basis for the technology’s commercialization nationwide.
The initial budget for the testing will be around P7.3 million.
It also hopes to initiate supply chain linkages between coco water consolidators and possible small-scale processors.
“Indeed, we are on-track to creating a sustainable and stable source of livelihood and income for thousands of Filipino coconut farmers,” said Alcala.
“By finding an industrial application to a by-product used to be thrown away as waste, we create new rural-based enterprises and possibilities towards progress,” he added.
Under the initiative entitled “Cocowater Processing Technology Pilot Testing and Business Incubation Project,” Alcala signed a memorandum of agreement with Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Luis Villafuerte and CBSUA president Georgina Bordado.
As part of the agreement, DA-PhilMech will procure the components of the equipment and facilitate the assembly and installation at the DA’s regional office Bicol in Pili. The newly designed equipment allows hygienic extraction, storage and chilling of coco water.
With a capacity of around 2,000 mature coconuts per day, equivalent to at least 600 liters of coco water daily, the set-up is compact and portable enough to be transported and installed anywhere in the country, according to PhilMech.
PhilMech also takes care of the training and technical aspects of the project. The
identification and mobilization of farmer groups — who will be taught by PhilMech how to operate the equipment and eventually manage the facility – is the responsibility of the provincial government. The farmers will also supply the raw materials for the project.
Meanwhile, DA-Region 5 will oversee the day-to-day operations of the facility. It will closely coordinate with CBSUA, whose main task is to spearhead the feasibility study and come up with a Good Manufacturing Practices manual.
The state university will also design and implement the marketing strategies and promotional activities during the test run.
PRDP, on the other hand, will fund the project and serve as the overall project coordinator. PRDP is a World Bank-assisted livelihood and infrastructure initiative, which will be officially launched via a ceremony in Cebu City next month.
Most promising is that new export demand for coco water surged recently because of its growing popularity as a health drink, both here and abroad. In fact, returning from a trip to the U.S. last year, President Aquino hailed coconut water as one of the country’s most promising new export opportunities.
Alcala said the government is now looking at filling the surge in demand for health drinks in major markets with the US as the country’s top destination.
He added that the key for the project’s success is market creation, noting that coco water can be marketed as an alternative to popular sports drinks, only that it is healthier because it contains, in their natural form, essential electrolytes and minerals needed for rehydration.
The DA chief added that supply should not be a problem for farmers as the country can produce huge volumes of coconut water, estimated at 2.4 billion liters annually.
“It was based on a conservative assumption that only half of the national coconut production of 15 billion nuts will be utilized to produce the export product,” he said.
In the first quarter of 2012, the Philippines exported nearly 4.49 million liters of fresh coconut water, up by 300 percent from 1.12 million liters in the previous year.