DAVAO CITY — Farmers in Davao Oriental province, the biggest coconut producer in the region, are awaiting the specifics on the Department of Agriculture’s (DA’s) recent pronouncement that the US market is open for young coconut exports.

“Being the number two producer of coconuts in the Philippines, there is still no communication from the DA tapping us to participate in the export of young coconut to the US,” Provincial Agriculturist Rotchie M. Ravelo said in an interview.

Davao Oriental is second in terms of land area and production of coconuts after Quezon province in Luzon, but the Davao Region as a whole has been in the lead in recent quarters.

First quarter 2019 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows coconut production at 3.31 million metric tons (MT), up 0.2% from the same quarter last year, with the biggest contribution at 14.4% coming from Davao.

Two other Mindanao regions, Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao, came in second and third with 13.6% and with 12.9%, respectively.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol earlier announced that the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has instructed its regional offices to identify farmers growing young coconut for coco water and meat products.

In the meantime, Mr. Ravelo said the region is complying with Mr. Piñol’s “special order” to promote coconut water.

“There is a notice from DA encouraging us to utilize coconut water in our events. But there are no very specific instructions (on exports) like the buyers, machinery and equipment to be used so that we can produce these products,” Mr. Ravelo said in mixed Filipino and English.

He added that they need guidance on talks with potential investors and projected demand.

The agriculture officer said with 116,000 hectares of land planted to coconut in Davao Oriental, “I think that is more than enough to supply if they require us for (example) a weekly harvest of 100,000 young coconuts.”

Mr. Ravelo said the coconut farmers are eager to diversify into young coconut exports, especially with the decline in the price of copra, the main ingredient in coconut oil which is made from older nuts.

The promotion of intercropping is also continuing, he added, with a growing number of coconut farmers now planting cacao.

“Our partners (in the sector) are trying to help our farmers not to rely solely on coconuts so we asked them to intercrop. We gave them coconut and cacao seedlings to intercrop,” he said.

Mr. Ravelo said the provincial government has also been working on attracting value-adding investment.

“The (local government) is opening our province for large investors to invest in coconut-based industry value adding activities,” he said, citing the production of coco fiber and virgin coconut oil.

“These negotiations are ongoing,” he said. — Maya M. Padillo