‘CFITF to modernize coconut sector, bring relief to farmers’

The Department of Agriculture (DA) and lawmakers said the passage of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act (CFITF) would “pave the way” for the modernization of the industry and uplift the lives of millions of farmers.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, however, said there is a need to guard against potential misuse of the P100-billion coco levy fund intended to benefit 3.5 million coconut farmers.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said with the guaranteed P75 billion in the next 5 years, the CFITF would be a “game-changer” that would industrialize the country’s coconut sector.

“This ushers in a new policy that will set in motion big reforms in the coconut industry using efficiently the proceeds of the coconut levy for the benefit of 2.5 million coconut farmers and their families, and the coconut industry in general,” Dar said in a statement.

President Duterte signed last Friday Republic Act (RA) 11521 that would allow the utilization of the estimated P100-billion coconut levy fund. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/02/26/duterte-signs-coconut-trust-fund-law/)

Under the law, the fund will be used for the development of hybrid coconut seed farms; training of farmers and their families under the coconut registry; research and marketing and promotions for coconut farmers; crop insurance; and farm investments through diversification and/or intercropping.

It will also be used to establish shared facilities for processing coconut; organizing and empowerment of coconut farmers; credit programs from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines; infrastructure development; scholarship programs; and health and medical programs.

As mandated by the new law, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) would spearhead the crafting and implementation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan (CFIDP), where the 50-year CFITF would be included.

Ahead of this, PCA Administrator Benjamin Madrigal said the agency “underwent an organizational transformation to make it into a more efficient, credible, and responsive institution in addressing the needs of coconut farmers and the challenges confronting the industry.”

“Since last year, we have worked on the establishment and operationalization of regular regional and provincial industry fora, composed of coconut farmers’ groups, government agencies, local government units, and other stakeholders,” Madrigal said.

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the passage of the law “is a monumental moment for more than 3 million coconut farmers, who have long been denied the fund that rightfully belongs to them.”

AAMBIS-OWA Party-list Representative Sharon Garin, who has primarily pushed for the passage of the Coconut Industry and Development Trust Fund Bill as early as the 15th Congress, also lauded the signing into law of RA 11524.

“I thank President Duterte’s signing of RA 11524 establishing the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund. This is a manifestation of his genuine concern to the interest and welfare of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry as well,” House Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairman Rep. Mark M. Enverga said.

“I am glad that all his concerns and observations when he vetoed the previous coco levy bill version were all given due course to reflect the interests of the small coconut farmers.”

Citing PCA data, the DA said the total area planted with coconut has been declining through the years, estimated at 3.6 million hectares in 2018 with 347 million bearing trees that yield an average of 44 nuts per tree annually.

“To date, the Philippines ranks as the world’s second-largest producer and number one exporter of coconut products. However, the coconut sector contributes a measly 4 percent to the gross value-added in agriculture,” the DA said.

“Among the major reasons of declining productivity in the coconut sector are dwindling areas and low yields,” it added.

‘New battleground’

Pangilinan said “after the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act was signed into law, continued vigilance is needed to ensure that its over P100 billion in cash and assets will benefit the country’s mostly impoverished 3.5 million coconut farmers.”

In a statement Sunday, the senator alerted coconut farmers of a looming new challenge, warning that “this is a new battleground.”

“As the Edsa People Power Revolt was a win for the people, this is a win for the coconut farmers, even if it is partial and unfinished,” Pangilinan said adding: “Those who contributed to the fund must benefit from it.”

The senator said government officials tasked to oversee and control the P70-billion in cash and P30-billion in assets “must ensure that these returned ill-gotten wealth be utilized and spent judiciously and according to the provisions of the law.”

“This is the fruit of almost half a century of struggle against the injustice suffered by our coconut farmers. Our coconut farmers and their families must now reap the benefits of their hard-earned money,” said Pangilinan, partly in Filipino.

He recalled being one of authors of the Senate version of the enabling bill that President Duterte signed into law affixing his signature on it, admitting he voted with reservations for its passage after some of its provisions were “watered down.”

Pangilinan rued that he and other senators were overruled during the voting in their push to have farmer-representatives in the trust fund management committee tasked to oversee the utilization of the multibillion fund.

Still, the senator stressed the need to ensure that the farmers will have a formidable voice in deciding how the fund would be used in adherence to the CFIDP, voicing hopes that “the funds will go a long way to shore up the industry long-forgotten and deprived despite its huge potential for growth.”

Moreover, Pangilinan reminded that “in 2019, our coconut farmers earned P143.00 a day, according to the 2021 National Expenditures Program,” but lamented that “they are surely suffering more hardships now during the pandemic.”

He noted that the law creates a trust fund which will receive P10 billion from the Bureau of the Treasury upon enactment of the law, and then P10 billion in the 2nd year, P15 billion in the 3rd year, P15 billion in the 4th year, and P25 billion in the 5th year, for a total of P75 billion.

The trust fund, he added, will come from the coco levy fund—the tax imposed on coconut farmers by former President Ferdinand Marcos from 1971 to 1983, ruing that “the money was invested in businesses, but the benefits promised to the farmers never materialized.”

“We hope the law can bring to life the coconut industry and to every Filipino farmer’s dream for a better future.”

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