by ERNESTO T. SOLIDUM
Coco Farmers: Living On Life’s Edge
Aklan’s emergence as top performer in crushing poverty and hunger at its core can be melodramatic. The National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) report of 21.0 percent poverty incidence in 2012 compared to 38.4 percent in 2009 is very significant because three years ago the province is classified as belonging to a group of 20 provinces wallowing in poverty. Perhaps, resiliency and dogged determination of its people and leaders to overcome social problems and/or challenges have given them the strength to beat the odds.
Everyone must be aware that NSCB report is not conclusive since the final one is expected towards the end of this year. Yet the 45.3 percent reduction may remain as is or adjusted based on existing realities. Certainly, euphoria at this point in time is too premature.
The argument that Aklan’s poverty incidence must be validated is borne by a humbling fact: Aklan historically is a coconut producing province and considered the biggest in Western Visayas yet its stakeholders are poor as a rat. Its economy and fortune are tied to a crop which product market price is conveniently dictated by traders.
Ms. Plevy C. Reyes-Raco, Philippine Coconut Development Manager in Aklan revealed that area planted to coconuts in Aklan totaled 46,409.73 hectares. Of which, bearing trees are 2,904,780 hectares with average nut production per tree of 63.55 a year. The average farm size is 1.2 hectare managed/owned by 45,765 farmers. The leading town producers are Ibajay – 6,012.35 hectares and Libacao – 5,380 hectares.
The bearing tress constitute 62.5 percent of total area which the 29.9 percent are non-bearing, and the senile – 7.6 percent. This shows that the actual bearing trees per hectare is 97.5 producing 6,196.25 nuts per hectare per year. At an average of four nuts to produce a kilogram of copra, one hectare coconut plantation will produce 1,549.0 kgms. copra per hectare a year. At a current farm gate price of P12.00 per kilogram, the income of a coco farmer is P18,588 per hectare or P19,000 gross for the 1.2 hectare average landholding a year.
At P19,000 gross annual income, this is equivalent to a monthly income of P1,583.33 or P52.77 per day. The expenses for harvesting, drying and hauling must be subtracted. In the case of tenants, they are in dire straits because 60 percent go to the land owner.
Management of 1.2 hectare coconut farm does not demand full time activities. The farmer can engage in other projects to augment his coconut income.
Definitely, the coconut industry in Aklan needs to be physically and structurally rehabilitated. A well funded replanting program coupled with the use of high yielding varieties and fertilization must be implemented. Fortunately program on physical transformation is on-going for the last three years under PCA manager Euclides G. Forbes.
On the other hand, USec Merly Cruz of the Department of Trade and Industry said that coco coir from coconuts, one of industry by-products is being tapped to be one of the three big exports of the country by 2016. USec Cruz said that exports of the product could be P1.7 billion per year. Versatility is seen in upholstery padding, mattresses, floor mats, doormats, strings, ropes, nets and brushes.
The Philippines produces only 6,037 metric tons (MT) of coco coir products for export out of the 15,205 billion nuts harvested from 3.56 million hectares. In comparison, Shri Lanka produces 120,616 MT of coco coir for export from the 395,000 hectares of land that produce 2,707 billion nuts. The major export markets for coco coir are China, Japan and Taiwan.
The biggest irony is that the coconut has a thousand and one uses be it in industry, food, beverage and medicine yet unexploited or underutilized. More than a century ago, George Washington Carver, a US scientist discovered the prodigious uses of peanuts and Americans have fully exploited the crop to the hilt making them prosperous and powerful.
Coco coir is manufactured into geotextiles notably nets for slope rehabilitation, fish nets, twines and ropes. The horticulture industry uses cocopeat, bricks and blocks combined with seaweeds as fertilizer-receptacles.
Among the active producers of coco coir products are found at Inawayan, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur and the Ivisan Small Coconut Farmers MPC. Unfortunately the Ibajay Small Farmers Coconut Farmers MPC folded up in 2009 due to financial and institutional problems. However, in the past, the latter cooperative exported significant volumes of coco coir mats and ropes to China.
Undoubtedly the physical and structural reform in the coconut industry must be fully developed to alleviate poverty, provide livelihood and decent income to the increasing population. It is foreseened scenario that if the coco industry is fully exploited as to its various products, full employment of workers can be assured. Mr. Joel Recamora, Chief Anti-Poverty Commission recommended that the P70-80 billion coco levy fund be channeled to projects that directly benefit coco farmers.
Even if Aklan is now better off than its neighbors, it is imperative leaders give due attention to the worsening plight of coco farmers. The World Bank report that 20 percent of Filipinos lives on a dollar a day is well validated in the case of coco stakeholders. Living on life’s edge surely is not what God intended us to be. /MP