THE coconut industry may be the agriculture sector’s saving grace, as it has the potential to earn up to $6 billion a year from exports, benefiting millions of small, marginal farmer families, a former official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.
“The coconut industry’s vast potential to earn more has never been tapped because of numerous issues bugging the industry,” said William Dar who was acting Agriculture Secretary during the Estrada administration.
In 2016, the country earned $2 billion from exports of coconut products, mainly coconut oil (CNO), 80 percent of which goes to Europe and the US, according to the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP). CNO is a major ingredient in food, cosmetics and energy-related products.
Dar said it was possible to triple the country’s revenue from coconut exports by increasing the productivity of coconut trees to 150 nuts per year using dwarf hybrids developed by the Philippine Coconut Authority. Hybrids start bearing fruits in three to four years versus seven for traditional varieties.
“Our current yield of 46 nuts per tree yearly is ridiculously low, considering that in India, the average is five times over at 250, in Mexico 300, and in Brazil 400 nuts,” he said.
“In fact, 300 nuts per year can be achieved in well-managed plantations by augmenting hybrid technology with good agricultural practices,” Dar added.
“Through the years, we were contented on meager yields due to poor genetics, nil fertilization, and limited replanting of tree stocks. Further, 20 percent of our coconut trees are senile, while most are planted in marginal lands that produce low yields.”
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the country has 3.565 million hectares, or 26 percent of total agricultural lands, planted to 339 million bearing coconut trees, tended by 3.4 million farmers who are mostly poor.
“Besides low yield and aging trees, the country’s coconut industry supply chain is largely made up of unorganized, small, marginal farmers who are inefficient and thus skew economies of scale regarding input supply, primary processing, marketing, and transport,” said Dar, who served 15 years as director-general of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, said.
The government and the private sector should establish coconut processing centers and post-harvest facilities, more farm-to-market roads and irrigation systems, and provide farmers with effective and efficient extension service, including accessible credit and crop insurance. The power of information and communication technology should also be enhanced to improve production and delivery systems, he said.
“It is high time the government invest billions of pesos from the coconut levy funds to modernize the country’s coconut sector. Beyond production, small farmers should engage in primary processing at the village level. They could also be tapped to promote Philippine coconut products abroad,” Dar said.