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Cocolisap and other threats to coconut industry

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

The coconut tree – often referred to by many Filipinos as the tree of life for its many uses such as shelter, food, and a curing balm – is fighting for its own life, and along with it, the lives of thousands of our countrymen whose livelihood depends on it.

Since 2010 when the first signs of infestation by coconut scale insects or cocolisap appeared, nothing much had been achieved to control the spread of the destructive pest.

The cocolisap attacks the coconut tree by eating the leaves, fruits, and flowers until only the trunk is left. By this time, the tree is beyond resuscitation, and would be worth only the salvaged coco-lumber. The affected coconut farmers alone are inutile in the face of the infestation.

Recently, the government acknowledged the severity of the problem when it declared a state of calamity in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) zone and Basilan. Approximately one million trees are said to be at risk valued at P33 billion.

A massive program costing some P750 million to contain the infestation is finally underway, and hopefully after six months something positive would have been accomplished.

Meanwhile, there is another more serious threat to the entire coconut industry and not just the cocolisap affected regions. And this would affect millions (not just thousands) of farmers who rely on the coconut tree for their source of earning.

Suarez theory

Former Rep. Danilo E. Suarez is a two-term congressman from the 3rd District of the province of Quezon. He is currently spending most of his time going around the province and providing support to his son and current Quezon governor, David C. Suarez.

He is also very much involved in advancing the interest of coconut farmers and the industry as a whole since coconut is a major crop of Quezon province.

Suarez recently sent me the following letter which describes what he calls as the more serious threat to the coconut industry. Below are excerpts from his position paper:

Killing the coconut industry

“Twenty seven percent of our total national agricultural land is planted with coconuts, with around 3.5 million coconut farmers. Moreover, 25 million Filipinos, or nearly one-fourth of the population, are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry. This is why every issue affecting our coconut industry will significantly affect a vital portion of our population.

“Recently, the media focused on the cocolisap, an epidemic three years in the making, and – no thanks to our inept Department of Agriculture officials – has resulted in infected trees having decreased yields of up to 60 percent.

“The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) reports that annual production of coconut dropped by 3.3 percent – from 15.86 million metric tons (MT) in 2012 to 15.34 million MT last year. The local coconut industry has already lost at least P200 million because of the massive infestation and the losses are mounting as each day passes.

A more serious scourge

“The losses sustained by our farmers because of the cocolisap is huge, enough to merit sensational headlines. And yet there is another scourge which has been ongoing far longer than the cocolisap infestation, and which severely dwarfs its impact on the coconut industry: the palm oil importation of our own government.

“Aggravating the dismal situation of our coconut farmers is the fact that the market is now flooded with imported palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, and by rampant “technical” smuggling, specifically the undervaluation of palm oil products.

“A study cited during the The Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) forum by the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) showed that in 2011 alone, 500,000 metric tons of palm oil left Malaysia as palm olein but only 350,000 tons arrived in the Philippines under a different value-added tax classification.

“This is the reason why, ironically, if you go to the supermarkets, the prices of foreign palm oil for cooking is cheaper than those locally produced.

“We wish to point your attention to the interesting fact that the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) is an offshoot of the coconut levy which was imposed on the sale of copra from 1973 to 1982. Out of the accumulated funds from this levy was established the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and the CIIF, which was charged with managing the coco levy fund.

“The CIIF, which is under the direct supervision of the Department of Agriculture, was created from the coconut levy funds, hence, there is a premise that the CIIF must be used to protect and improve the life of coconut farmers.

“However, what is mandated to protect the interests of our coconut farmers, has been importing coconut palm oil which is in direct competition with our local farmers.

“Three CIIF-owned oil mills (San Pablo Manufacturing Corp., Legaspi Oil Co., Cagayan de Oro Oil Co.) imported a combined total of 11,721,069 kg of Mitra Palm Oil from 2011 to 2012. This is valued at P631,005,786.

“Just imagine, these oil mills are supposed to buy their raw materials from local sources and turn them into coconut oil. Instead, they import finished product (palm oil) from another country which directly competes with our local coconut oil.

“Add to this injury is the fact that the total overall importation of imported cooking oil (all types and brands by both private and government entities) was 746,292,166 kg from 2011 to 2012. This is valued at P28,725,010,545. (Bureau of Customs Statistics).

“If our government agencies are competing against our own coconut farmers, then they do not have a snowball’s chance in hell to survive.”

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

COCONUT DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FARMERS INDUSTRY OIL PALM QUEZON SUAREZ
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