THE restructuring of the coconut industry should focus on extracting value-added from all parts of the tree, while farmers should be allowed to tap whatever market opportunities present themselves, including selling trees for lumber, an expert said.

“What we need is the transformation of the industry, so that you have a nucleus-like set up where you have coconut farms surrounding the processing centers and you can utilize all of the value addition from the whole tree,” Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Research Fellow Roehlano M. Briones said in a phone interview.

He was responding to a question about the recent decision of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to maintain the ban on the export of mature coconuts, which was first ordered in a Marcos-era decree to preserve the raw material supply for the copra and coconut oil industry.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar also said that opening up the export market for mature coconuts runs counter to the government’s goal to conduct value-added activities in-country, including processing of coconut oil.

The lifting of the ban was proposed in April while Emmanuel F. Piñol was still Agriculture Secretary. Overturning the export ban would require the repeal of Executive Order 1016 issued by President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Coconut production in the third quarter rose 0.3% to 4.04 million metric tons (MT), according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). The average farmgate price declined 20% year-on-year to P4.67 per kilo. In the first nine months, the price fell 26% to P4.84. Mr. Briones recommended that coconut farms be consolidated near processing centers as in the oil palm and sugar industries, to encourage processing of the whole tree and reduce waste byproduct.

“Coconut has such a wide variety of uses… but right now we are still mostly deploying coconut for copra, which is a huge forgone opportunity from the various other products that you can make with coconut,” he added.

The government should also relax tree-cutting rules so farmers can generate income from lumber.

Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10593, which amended R.A. No. 8048, or the Coconut Preservation Act of 1995, requires the PCA to issue permits to cut coconut trees.

“Anyway, kung talagang kumikita naman yung coconut, magtatanim naman yung mga yan, so instead of making those prohibitions, open up mo yun (If planting coconut pays, farmers will do it, so instead of putting up these prohibitions, the market needs to be opened up),” Mr. Briones said.

However, he said that it would have been more beneficial for coconut farmers to export their harvest since this would give them another market opportunity.

“Just on the current situation, hindi ako pabor kasi medyo mahina ang copra prices (I am not in favor because copra prices are low), so you want to give farmers every market opportunity. It will be good if they can open up that part of the market so that there is an additional source of income for coconut farmers,” he said.

“In the long run, I think it’s also good to open that up because you always want to give farmers an option… I don’t see a reason why giving more options is bad,” he added. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang