Photo courtesy of inquirer.net

by Secretary Emmanuel Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

While I am part of government, there are some policies which my simple mind could not understand and one of these is the ban on the export of mature coconuts.

The coconut industry is in the doldrums because of very low prices of copra, the raw material used in producing cooking oil which is the main product from coconut.

Coconut farmers are complaining that while the price of cooking oil in the market is very high, the buying price of their coconut has been below profitable levels.

Many, in fact, are just allowing the nuts to fall because they say they will just end up losing money because of the very low prices.

When the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), one of the four agri-related agencies taken out of the Department of Agriculture and placed under the Office of the President during the Aquino administration, was returned to the DA in September 2018, I was faced with the problem of very low prices of copra.

Let me emphasize that PCA was placed under the Department of Agriculture only in September 2018 and I resigned as Agriculture Secretary nine months later and moved to the Mindanao Development Authority on Aug. 5, 2019.

As DA Secretary, I supported several recommendations made by the coconut industry stakeholders, among which was the export of young coconuts, the export of mature coconuts, the increase of the coconut oil content of the bio-diesel from 2% to 5% and the limit on the entry of Palm Oil from Malaysia and Indonesia.

We only succeeded with the export of young coconuts penetrating both China and the United States of America.

But all the others were not acted upon.

Of the recommendations which were not acted upon, the one policy that I could not really understand is the ban on the export of mature coconuts.

The PCA Board, even before the agency was placed under the DA in 2018, had already passed a measure endorsing the lifting of the ban on the export of mature coconuts.

The measure, however, was not acted upon and I was told that recently, the PCA Board had a change of heart and rescinded that resolution.

Those opposing it say that exporting mature coconuts could lead to the theft of our coconut planting materials and that it is better that these are processed for added value.

Theft of coconut germplasms?

I have not heard of a more ridiculous justification.

All these years, smugglers have been shipping out mature coconuts and in reality, it is us actually us who have been bringing in improved coconut varieties from Thailand, like the Aromatic coconut.

I am a believer and advocate of value-adding in our raw materials but our problem in the coconut industry is that the added value of coconut products does not go to the farmers but to the big business and corporations who buy coconut at very low prices.

True, we should assist our coconut farmers by establishing processing facilities for them but that is going to take years.

We need to help the coconut industry now.

While we are working on the establishment of the farmer-owned processing facilities, let us allow them to export their raw products to give them economic relief.

There are pending orders from foreign buyers of mature coconuts at higher prices and all that the farmers need is the go-signal from the concerned agencies.

As Chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority covering Mindanao where coconut is one of the major products, I have fired off several official communications recommending the lifting of the export ban.

I have not received any official reply from the agencies involved so I decided to make this public.

Naghihirap ang mga magsasaka ng niyog sa Mindanao. Puede nyo ba ipaliwanag kung bakit ayaw nyo payagan na mag-export sila ng matured coconuts?

In the face of the economic hardships suffered by the coconut farmers and the efforts of government to trigger the economic recovery of the country following the COVID 19 Pandemic, we need to do something fast.

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