A Filipino worker inspects coconuts at a plantation in Quezon province in this picture taken on Aug. 11, 2004. — REUTERS

THE MAHARLIKA Investment Corp. (MIC) is looking into investing in the agro-industries sector, specifically coconut oil mills and refineries.

“The MIC Board approved discussions with the Department of Finance-Privatization Management Office to explore investment opportunities in government assets, particularly in coconut oil mills and refineries,” it said in a statement over the weekend.

In a Viber message, MIC Chief Executive Officer and President Rafael D. Consing, Jr. said that the corporation is “seeking to identify strategic opportunities within the agri sector.”

No other details were provided.

“Proceeds of the Coco Levy Trust fund go to programs for farmers, an investment in line with the government’s socioeconomic development program,” the MIC said.

In 2021, then-President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11521 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act.

The law puts coconut levy assets into a trust fund that finances rehabilitation and modernization projects for the coconut industry.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the value of coconut oil exports jumped by 26.9% to $138.17 million in January from $108.92 million in the same month a year ago.

Around 80% of the country’s total coconut production is processed into copra, the feedstock for coconut oil mills, according to the Agriculture department.

However, the average annual capacity utilization rate of the coconut oil mills from 2009 to 2013 was only recorded at 49.8%.

Meanwhile, Danilo V. Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc., said that the sovereign wealth fund’s interest in investing in coconut oil mills and refineries is a welcome move.

“I think we have several coconut oil mills which are part of the assets of the coconut levy funds. They are supposed to be liquidated within five years from the date the law was passed,” he said in a Viber message.

“We need these coconut mills whether public or private in order to increase our share of the export market for coconut products. The Maharlika fund is a good outlet in liquidating these assets so that benefits could be given to coconut farmers out of the proceeds of sale,” he added.

On the other hand, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet said that the MIC’s “big business approach” is unlikely to prioritize coconut farmers.

“Value-adding economic activity should be at the farm level. We’d rather see public investments in coconut processing so that farmers can benefit,” he said in a Viber message.

“Promoting value chain development with the farmers having a central role from supply to processing and marketing would ensure that they are able to capture the bigger share of the pie,” he added.

He cited the production of virgin coconut oil, edible oil, coconut water, charcoal briquette and other value-added products that can be produced by farmers.

The MIC earlier identified its priority sectors such as energy, physical and digital infrastructure, food security, aviation and aerospace, mineral processing, transportation and tourism.

Earlier this month, Mr. Consing said that the MIC is seeking to raise $1 billion for energy projects. The bulk of its initial investments will be focused on energy, he said.

The MIC has an authorized capital stock of P500 billion. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson