Coconut industry needs institutional reforms
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said there is so much unrest now in the coconut industry, especially the copra producing provinces of the country, because of the very low prices of copra.
“People who are not aware of the reasons behind this recurring problem of seasonal low prices of copra blame government,” Piñol said. “The suffering of the cococonut farmers today is more than just an issue of low copra prices but a symptom of a sick and neglected agriculture sector”.
As a coconut producing country, the Philippines is ranked no. 2 in the world, with over 15 million metric tons (MT) of coconut produced every year from an area of about 3.5 million hectares.
Thailand, which produces only 1 million MT from an area of about 216,000 hectares, however, outpaced the Philippines in the marketing of coconut products.
All over the United States now, Thai coconut products like coco water and coco sugar are outselling everybody.
“Where did we go wrong? It is all because of the dismal failure of government to elevate the coconut farmer from being a copra producer to a processor of high value products from coconut,” Piñol said.
He then said that the main, and sometimes the only, product coming out of the coconut farms in the Philippines is copra which is processed by oil mills into coconut oil. And since coconut oil is an internationally traded commodity, the prices would largely depend on world market prices.
When the prices drop, it is not the oil mill that absorbs the losses but the farmers. And since farmers are highly dependent on copra production for their income, they suffer every time prices fall.
“Now, we have to employ stop-gap programs or what I would call ‘tapal-tapal’ measures just to ease the suffering of the farmers… There has to be an institutional reform in the coconut industry,” Piñol said.
According to him, as soon as the coconut levy fund is released this year, village level processing centres will be established so that organized coconut farmers will be turning out Virgin Coconut Oil, Coconut Water in Tetrapaks, Coco Chips, Coco Sugar, Coco Syrup, Irradiated Coco Coir and other high value products.
They will become their own merchandisers of the products that they will produce, Piñol said.