The other day at Mass, the parish priest devoted a good part of his homily urging the faithful to pray and contribute material means for the victims of the latest natural disaster. At the board meeting of the Ambassadors Foundation, it was decided that instead of the Christmas party we would just donate the programmed expenditure for the victims of Yolanda.
In the meantime at the University of Asia and the Pacific, we allowed the students time of to collect relief goods which they enthusiastically packaged all day and all evening. This is the spirit of solidarity or bayanihan which will make this nation great.
This spirit is in stark contrast to the greed and acquisitiveness exhibited by our public servants which have been revealed by recent investigations and media reports.
Going into the tragedy that has struck the coastal areas of the Eastern Visayan seaboard, specifically the provinces of Leyte and Samar, which bore the brunt of the strong winds and tidal wave, what immediately came to mind as former chairman of the Philippine Coconut Authority, was the destruction of the coconut trees—the mainstay of the eastern Visayan economy.
Tree of life
The Eastern Visayas region accounts for no less than 12% of total coconut hectarage in the country. In specific terms this is 434 thousand hectares out of the estimated 3.5 million hectares, planted to some 46 million trees. Our estimate is that some 300,000 families will be affected directly and indirectly by the devastation of coconut farms, mostly located along the shorelines.
The unfortunate thing is that when a coconut tree is fallen and uprooted it is only good for coconut lumber. After a replanting program it will take at least 5 years for coconut trees to bear fruit, which means that coconut families will be deprived of livelihood for the same number of years unless the government intervenes.
This is where the controversial coconut levy fund can be deployed. In the case of the natural disaster affecting the Mindanao and Visayas regions of late, we did not hear of the use of the funds to help the affected coconut farmers in Davao, Bohol or Negros Oriental.
As short-term measure the fund could be used for short-term crops, which would normally be used for intercropping. This would go a long way in alleviating the plight of the coconut farmer in the near term while the full-scale rehabilitation and reconstruction of the industry in the area is ongoing. Obviously nurseries will have to be established immediately to supply the devastated farms with seedlings and planting materials for the intercrops. The fund could also be utilized to restructure the coconut industry in the region which suffers from less productive trees facing senile decay and lack of fertilization.
Nation’s poorest farmers
Finally the fund could be used to effect the vertical and horizontal farm integration—buzzwords for intercropping and processing which could yield untold benefits for the Waray coconut farmers who are known to be the poorest in the industry. This is due to poor farm practices and the big blowers from the pacific that ravage the region from time to time such as the big one that hit it recently.
This brings us back to the subject of the coconut levy which we wrote about a couple of columns ago where we cited the danger of the fund going the Malampaya fund way. We will recall that the Malampaya fund has hit the spotlight of late due to the perceived anomalies surrounding its utilization. In this connection we will continue to insist that the utilization of the fund be made more transparent to preserve its integrity
Incidentally an item in the business page of a daily caught my eye. This was a donation by JICA the Japanese aid agency of a coconut processing machines to a group of coconut farmers to improve their livelihood. I thought to myself, why could not the government using the coco-levy fund do this instead of the faraway Japanese? Well your guess is as good as mine!