With the expected transmittal of the 2024 national expenditure program (NEP) to the House today, a senior lawmaker is calling for a scrutiny of the budgetary outlays for the coconut industry with the end in view of restoring the country as a top coconut exporter.
Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte issued the statement amid the coconut industry’s shrinking output, softening global prices, and increasingly extensive damages wrought by pests and climate change.
“An overwhelming majority of our 2.5 million coconut farmers are already living below the poverty threshold, and many more will join them there in the years ahead without any hope of salvation unless we in Congress ensure ample funds for intervention programs to reverse in the long term the economic slump hounding this once sunrise industry,” Villafuerte said.
“Hence, sustained higher public spending is crucial to finally lift coconut farmers from poverty and revitalize this industry to achieve its true export potentials through such intervention programs as a massive replanting program using high-yielding varieties and modern farming technologies, provision of access to processing facilities and marketing outlets for exports of value-added products, and farmers’ income augmentation via multi-cropping and animal-raising in their lands,” he said.
First on this must-do list, Villafuerte said, is for the government to set aside sufficient funds for an intensive replanting program to replace standing trees, millions of which are already old or senile, below the prime of their productivity, and producing fewer and fewer nuts over the years.
“These farmers cannot rely on coconut production alone to make both ends meet and will have to be assisted by the government with more and better programs that will let them use the wide spaces between their coconut trees for planting other crops and raising animals to generate supplemental income,” he said.
Also, there should be an aggressive government effort to help them process and improve their products, the lawmaker said, “so our farmers can cash in on the ever-growing global trend toward a healthy or ‘green’ lifestyle by way of an aggressive promotion and marketing strategy, with a focus on the medicinal, nutritional, and therapeutic value of our processed coconut products.”
Villafuerte added that this can be achieved through more and better intervention programs designed to facilitate the processing of coconuts into value-added products like virgin coconut oil (VCO), upgrading the quality of such healthier products to world-class standards, and promoting and selling them in overseas markets.
Villafuerte said the Congress and the Executive department need to exert joint efforts in lifting coconut farmers, who make up a sizable part of the farm population, out of poverty, given President Marcos’ goal, as stated in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), to uplift the plight of every Filipino.
Villafuerte said that in CamSur, for instance, investors are most welcome to partner with local entrepreneurs in the processing and export of high-value coconut products.
During a presidential visit to the province last March, the former governor recalled that President Marcos visited CamSur’s P230 million Sustainable Agriculture and Fishery Enterprises (SAFE) Innovation Hub for the processing and marketing of value-added coconut products for export.
According to separate data from different official sources—the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA); the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Research and Development (PCAARRD); and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the total area planted to coconut trees is 3.7 million hectares (ha), covering 69 of the country’s 82 provinces and giving the Philippines the distinction of having the world’s largest area devoted to this crop, said Villafuerte.
He added that this total land area, representing a fourth of all our country’s arable lands, is planted with 347 million fruit-bearing coconut trees tilled by 2.5 million farmers as of 2019—of whom 49 percent own their lots and 51 percent are landless tenants—and with a combined production of 14.5 million metric tons (MMT) of nuts.
About 75 percent of our coconut farmers till 2 hectares each or below; 98 percent of our farms are planted to native tall trees with 10 percent senility; and 50 percent of coconut areas are rainfed, without fertilizers, and without pest disease monitoring and control efforts.
Our top coconut-producing areas include the Davao region, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, and the subregion of Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon).
As of 2019, about 90 percent of coconut farmers live below the annual poverty threshold of P125,775; a majority of these tillers listed in the National Coconut Farmers Registry are food insecure and without social protection.