engr robert castanares
SLCCI President-Engr. Robert Castañares. Photo courtesy of Vicky Arnaiz

By Engr. Robert Castañares – President, Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce & Industry

 

· The general approaches and program components embodied in the roadmap are not new, per se. In fact, most if not all of the program components were already implemented by the responsible agencies but the result was far from what we have expected – due to the absence of a single coordinating body to manage all the activities.

· The primary purpose of the roadmap should be to achieve a high and rising standard of living for the coconut farmers, not just poverty reduction. The main goal must be to get the farmers out of poverty. The focus should be on how to increase the income of the coconut farmers to a level that would allow them to eat at least three decent meals a day, send their children to college, provide them with a decent dwelling, allow them access to quality health services, etc.

· In short, we need to start with the end in mind. Our target must be real numbers – not just abstract goals. We need to determine what should be the ideal income for the coconut farmers for them to enjoy a relatively comfortable standard of living. Then, we work backwards by determining the programs and projects that would deliver the desired income. Based on the recent NSCB report, the monthly food and poverty thresholds for a family of five are Php5,458 and Php7,821, respectively. Comparing these with the present Php1,500 monthly income of the coconut farmers, it is no surprise that they are living a life of misery and abject poverty.

· The primary determinant of standard of living is productivity. The current low harvest and the industry’s full dependence on copra – are the two major reasons why the coconut farmers are poor.

· On the average, the present output of the coconut industry is less than 50 percent of its potential capacity due to the following:  Large tracts of land which are suitable for coconut farming are left idle including former abaca farms which were hit by the bunchy top virus in 2005; About 10-15 percent of tree population are senile; only 90 trees are planted per hectare instead of the ideal 150 trees; Low volume of nut production due to inadequate or lack of fertilization; Presence of pests like the coconut beetle, brontispa and ‘cocolisap’.

· The effect on the income and standard of living of the farmers would be exponential if we could double the production output thru planting, replanting, fertilization, and eradication of pests in three to six years time.

· Moreover, intercropping with cacao, coffee, banana or cassava could easily increase the income of the farmers by at least five times. The reason why intercropping in most provinces failed in the past was due to the lack of comprehensive agriculture program at the provincial level. The success of intercropping is anchored on economies of scale. There has to be a separate intercropping roadmap that should guide the farmers and other stakeholders.

· The manufacture of coconut related products like coco coir, charcoal, coco water, coco sugar, coco nectar, etc. could also increase the income of the farmers by at least ten times. There has to be a separate roadmap to develop the manufacturing sector using coconut as a platform. The local entrepreneurs must be encouraged to slowly shift from retail to manufacturing to help generate more jobs in the community. Farmers must be organized and trained to produce those products to lessen their dependence on copra. Access to capital thru the coco levy fund must be readily made available to MSME’s and the farmer’s group.

· In order to accelerate the development of the manufacturing sector, investors must be encouraged to establish a fully integrated coconut processing plant on a per province basis. This will help reduce our dependence on copra by producing other high value products from coconut. It will also provide employment opportunities to the local residents.

· We can start initially with the 80-20 mix, meaning we can dedicate 80 percent of the total tree population to copra production while the 20 percent will be utilized for the production of other coconut products like coco sugar and coco nectar, among others. This strategy will surely push the price of copra up due to competition.

· In summary, if we could effectively implement the following initiatives i.e. 100 percent increase in nut production, intercropping, and manufacturing of coconut related products – the farmer’s present income of Php1500 per month could easily be increased to about Php15k to 20k per month. This level of income would already afford the farmer a comfortable standard of living for his family which is way above the Php7,821 monthly poverty threshold.

Conclusion and Recommendations

– It is ironic that while the national economic growth rate has reached the 6.8% mark, the majority of the regions especially the coconut producing ones were able to achieve only a 1.8% growth rate as in the case of Region 8.

· The current programs and projects to improve the performance of the coconut industry are to some extent already adequate. But the big question is – Why did we fail to successfully implement them? What do we need to do in order to make those programs work?

· First, the coconut rehabilitation strategy must be analyzed and crafted based on the prevailing conditions at the regional and provincial level. It is necessary that the roadmap must be regionalized because the economic factors which include the infrastructure development, market structure, type of dominant agricultural crops, production volume, income level, etc. vary from region to region.

· Second, the present organizational set up of PCA may have to be restructured to make it more responsive to the present and future needs of the coconut industry particularly on its poverty reduction role, and its new thrust to slowly shift from copra production to manufacturing of other coconut related products. Priority must be given on programs and projects that can easily be implemented over the next three years especially those with immediate impact on the farmer’s income.

· Third, since the primary objective of the roadmap is to help the coconut farmers achieve a high and rising standard of living, NAPC should be appointed as the main coordinating body to manage and put together the efforts of all concerned agencies. NAPC should also expand its regional presence by establishing satellite offices to accelerate the implementation of the following activities:

– Social preparation of the coconut farmers which should include organizing them into economic or business units, technical training, values formation, bridging the gap between the landowner and tenants, etc.

– Establish a pilot project in each province for the following programs – 100 percent increase in nut production, intercropping and manufacture of coconut related products.

– Coordinate and manage the activities of the different agencies and stakeholders at the regional and provincial level in relation to other interventions like fast tracking of land reform, social protection, and other institutional reforms; including the monitoring of their performance based on agreed standards.

– Submit periodic report to President Aquino and other concerned cabinet secretaries.

 

Note:

The Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce & Industry or SLCCI was responsible for crafting the Southern Leyte’ s Economic Development Framework in 2010 which included the Coconut Rehabilitation Roadmap and the Tourism Development Framework, as the two flagship programs. It was implemented during the first quarter of 2011 thru Public Private Partnership. SLCCI was able to successfully position Southern Leyte as “ The Playground  of Eastern Visayas” in 2012 thru the completion of several tourism hubs which were all accredited by the Department of Tourism.

The Coconut Rehabilitation Roadmap is currently being implemented by SLCCI in cooperation with the Philippine Coconut Authority, National Anti Poverty Commission, LGU’ s, the Diocese of Maasin and other stakeholders although, its implementation slowed down during the recent election period.

Both the Tourism Development Framework and Coconut Rehabilitation Roadmap crafted by SLCCI were adopted by the other chambers in Eastern Visayas as a template for their own roadmaps. SLCCI was also responsible for the review and improvement of the Regional Development Plan in 2011-2012.