Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos has proposed a rescue package for the coconut farmers who are suffering from the continuing slump in the domestic prices of copra.
At least 3.5 million coconut farmers have been affected by the slump, and most are deep in debt and some are no longer harvesting their crops.
Marcos visited the copra-producing provinces in Eastern Visayas and the Caraga Region in recent weeks, and spoke to some copra producers and farmers who told her about their problem.
“Our coconut industry continues to suffer because of the supply glut in the global market,” Marcos said.
“What makes this worse is that the slump is happening during the peak of the harvest season, which is from June to October.”
Data from the Philippine Coconut Authority showed that the average farm-gate price of copra remained at P18 to P22 per kilo in October.
But the farm-gate price in Eastern Visayas was the lowest in the copra-producing regions at only P15.62 per kilo last month. That compares with the average 25-peso per kilo farm-gate price in the first quarter of the year.
“If the trend continues, there will be a 10 percent increase in the poverty incidence in the provincial areas where copra prices continue to drop. What we need is immediate intervention through a rescue package for our coconut farmers,” Marcos said.
She said the government must extend credit to the affected farmers in the coconut industry.
“No less than President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier ordered Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines to provide programs that will support small borrowers, particularly our farmers,” Marcos said.
“The proceeds from the P75-billion coco-levy fund should also be used to directly benefit poor coconut farmers.”
Marcos said the government must also crack the whip on the copra smugglers who were bleeding the farmers dry.
“We should unmask these smugglers and charge them before the proper courts,” Marcos said.
“Let’s not forget that large-scale agricultural smuggling is already considered economic sabotage under the law.”
Marcos said moving toward a 5-percent bio-diesel blend from the current 2 percent would serve as a long-term solution to the problem of plummeting copra prices.
The Biofuels Act of 2006 says all diesel fuels sold in the domestic market should be blended with 5 percent coco methyl ester but this has yet to be implemented fully.
Marcos also encouraged investors to support more integrated coconut-based manufacturing plants for value-added products such as coconut water, coconut milk, virgin coconut oil and coconut flour.
At least 90 percent of the country’s copra production is made into coconut oil.
“If we can promote the manufacture of products other than coconut oil, I am confident the industry will be able to bounce back,” Marcos said.
The Philippines is the world’s second-largest producer of coconuts at more than 153 million tons a year, next only to Indonesia. It is estimated that one fourth of the country’s farmlands is dedicated to coconut production, and most of them are in Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Western Mindanao and Southern Mindanao.
But many of the coconut-producing areas have been consistently among the 20 poorest provinces in the country.