AT LEAST 1 million hectares of land devoted solely to coconut cultivation will be targeted for conversion to diversified crop production sites, aided by advanced irrigation techniques, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

“At least 1-million hectares of ‘mono-cropped’ coconut farms will be transformed into ‘Model Coconut Farms’ where farmers will practice diversified farming and embrace modern technology, including drip irrigation,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said in a social media post Wednesday.

The DA said the initiative is a component of its Coconut Industry Modernization Program, amid low prices for copra, the main raw material for producing coconut oil.

The DA launched the Model Coconut Farm Project alongside the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), which will initially develop 220 hectares across the country to become learning centers for coconut farming technology.

“The program is in preparation for the implementation of the Coconut Levy Fund Utilization Program expected before the end of this year,” he said.

The coconut levy bill was vetoed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in February, noting the possibilities for corruption. Mr. Duterte said in his veto message that the bill lacked “vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes in the past.”

The DA has committed an initial P50 million in loans at P25,000 per hectare over the next five years beginning 2020 for transforming coconut farms into diversified farms.

Areas between coconut trees are unproductive, and multile crops will lessen farmers’ reliance on copra. Other plants have been identified as suitable for growing in the shade: cacao, coffee, black pepper, chili, and vegetables.

Growth in agricultural output slowed to 0.67% in the first quarter of 2019, due to the contraction in the crops subsector, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said Wednesday.

Growth in the value of farm output during the first three months slowed from 1.80% recorded in the fourth quarter of 2018, as well as the 1.47% logged a year earlier.

Mr. Piñol noted that the country has about 3.5 million hectares of farms dedicated to coconut which produce 15 billion nuts annually. According to the PSA report, coconut production during the first quarter grew 0.23% year-on-year to 3.313 million metric tons.

In Gumaca, Quezon, a four-hectare site was recently designated a “model” farm for the diversified planting program. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang