The Philippines is the second-largest producer of coconuts globally. It is the top exporter of 47 coconut products and by-products, with the United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, and China being the top destinations for our local coconut products. These export products include coconut sap sugar, coconut water, coconut oil, desiccated coconut, coco shell charcoal, coconut water, activated carbon, and handicrafts which have become sought-after items in many trade exhibits annually held abroad.
Currently more than 3.5 million farmers derive income from the billion-dollar coconut industry, while 23 million depend on it for livelihood. About 12 million hectares of farmland of the country’s total 3.4 million hectares of farmlands are coconut plantations; and 68 of the country’s 79 provinces are coconut-growing areas.
Ironically, even as the coconut oil is the largest dollar earner among Philippine agricultural exports, coconut farmers remain the poorest among our farmers earning a meager P40-P50 a day. Years of neglect together with the cocolisap infestation and the severe calamities brought about increasing change in the global climate are among the serious challenges that the local coconut industry continue to face. During the recent Super Typhoon “Yolanda,’’ more than 33 million trees in the provinces of Quezon, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Cebu, Eastern Samar and Leyte were damaged in varying degrees. Data from the Philippine Coconut Authority reports that about 15 million trees have been totally destroyed and even with the most ideal conditions, it is going to take six to nine years before coconuts return to full production. In the interim, our coconut farmers will have nothing to look forward to unless alternative livelihood solutions are developed almost immediately.
Definitely just replanting coconut trees isn’t going to be enough to help solve the dilemma of our coconut farmers. What is saddening is that a number of published studies have already declared that the coconut sector offers numerous opportunities for livelihood and job generation. Moreover, if our government should choose to capitalize on these opportunities, it is expected to increase not only the productivity and income of our coconut farmers, but more importantly, it can provide as a strong hedge to alleviate poverty.
Of course the potential mentioned will require capital for technologies and infrastructure to harness the value-added products from coconut, and the way things are, our coconut farmers will continue to remain poor unless serious interventions are undertaken by both government and private sector. Government should work on giving due benefits to the coco farmers particularly through adequate programs to combat the cocolisap, the improvement of coconut breeds and projects that will allow our farmers to diversify, become more productive and benefit firsthand, particularly on the wise use of the Coco Levy funds. The funds which were started in during the Marcos era was successfully grown through the business and management acumen of Danding Cojuangco. Compared with other government projects, the fund steadily grew under his supervision. From an initial estimate of P9.695 billion in 1986, coco levy funds have since ballooned to about P93 billion. To make wise use of the funds and ensure that our farmers directly benefit from it, PNoy should probably appoint a coconut czar before his term ends, and hopefully this should continue under the next President.
Talking about national priorities and continuity of governance, I would like to stress the point that few of our countrymen notice that we are on the brink of anarchy. Among those vying for the 2016 elections, the Binay-Honasan tandem is the only one putting the state of criminality of the country as one of their priority. As I have stated before, our streets have descended into anarchy because of the neglect this administration has given our peace and security. The country will surely benefit from the visionary leadership, experience and strong political will that have been demonstrated by both men during their long years in public service.