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Coconut princes and princesses

There is a potential new breed of princes and princesses in Pampanga. They are young (princes, not kings), and promote gender equality (princesses, not just princes). They will win back the coconut kingdom that we lost after we gave up our position as the No. 1 coconut producer in the world to Indonesia. They will help redeem our rural poor from poverty.

Today, the average profile of the Filipino farmer is male and 58 years old. The female farmer has not been given the opportunity to play her important role because of long-standing traditional stereotypes. What better way to change this profile than by harnessing young men and women farmers to transform the coconut industry from sunset to sunshine status?

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Overview

About 350,000 coconut farmers and farm workers make up our largest agricultural sector. Unfortunately, they are also the poorest. The average net income of a coconut hectare is P20,000, mainly from from copra.

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But according to Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Regional Director Marvy Marasigan, intercropping coffee or cacao (both of which we mostly import) between the coconut trees can yield an additional P80,000. Supplementing this with multistory intercropping of papaya, pineapple or banana will translate to another P65,000.

Here is where empowered women farmers-cum-entrepreneurs can come in. If they focus on value added components such as coconut oil and processed coconut food, this can mean an additional P100,000.

The vision is that the coconut industry will no longer be propelled by 58-year old men earning P20,000 per hectare. It will instead be led by young men and women farmer-entrepreneurs who will embark on a multistory intercropping and value-added strategy that will yield more than P250,000 per hectare.

Today, two-thirds of our 3 million coconut hectares do not have any intercropping at all. Think of all that underutilized land between coconut trees being planted to additional agricultural crops. The additional income would be enormous. Now, think of all our idle lands that lie barren because common crops cannot be grown there. Marasigan said 70 percent of these lands could be planted to coconut.

One million trees

On July 14 last year, during the birthday of Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) chair Manuel Pangilinan, an agreement between KDF and PCA was signed to plant one million trees (equivalent to 10,000 hectares) in Pampanga within five years.

Last year saw the preparation for the launching of this program on July 14. The condition is that coconut planting must be accompanied with intercropping. Qualified beneficiaries have already been identified to receive 250,000 coconut seedlings during the launch.

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The objective is to increase the net income of a coconut hectare from P20,000 to P250,000 per year. This will be spearheaded by a new breed of farmers: Young men and women. An agribusiness system that will not only look at production, but also the important components of a profitable seed-to-shelf chain will be promoted.

The response to this coconut-cum-intercropping program has exceeded expectations. Radio anchors such as Francis Cansino of dzRB, Louie Tabing of dzMM, Jake Enriquez of dzAS, as well as Tony Rolla and Mina Manzanares of dwWW, have reported tremendous responses to this program. Well-known agriculture advocate Zac Sarian, with his popular blog, has also given very helpful feedback.

Even with the coconut intercropping requirement that goes with the free coconut seedlings, varied people wish to join the program. Some have idle hectares where other crops cannot be planted, but where coconut can thrive. Others have small patches of land in their backyards, where even a few coconut trees will significantly add to their meager incomes.

The intercropping requirement has opened the minds of others who have already planted coconut to look into this neglected area. This way, their coconut income will attain a manifold increase.

Expansion

For a coconut oil mill to be financially feasible, 20,000 coconut hectares are required. Thus, the one million target of coconut trees should be doubled to make such an oil mill feasible.

Given the amount of interest generated by this program and the vast expanse of idle lands that remains unproductive, the one million target should be doubled and turn the inclusive growth rhetoric into reality for many of our poor farmers.

Since this project is private-sector led, it should encourage the private sector in other parts of our country to implement this initiative. This will be driven by a new breed of princes and princesses who will spur our agriculture development and provide better incomes for our rural poor. Those interested in this program for possible replication can call the KDF secretariat at 0917-8403711.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of agriculture and of trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112).

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TAGS: Business, Coconut Industry, Commentary, ernesto m. ordonez, Pampanga
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