Coconut farmers can earn over K185 million per hectare

December 21, 2018

Michael Makabenta Alunan -
April 26, 2016

COCO farmers can now potentially earn over P3 million per hectare or even P10 million per hectare with a revolutionary but simple approach to coconut farming, by adopting age-old technologies that were kept from farmers unwittingly to protect the colonial copra-oil mill trade nexus.
Traditional coco trade kills sector. For many centuries, the coconut was considered the “Tree of Life,” but because of colonialism, which is a lopsided extractive one-way system of sucking the sap of the local economy as a mere raw-material exporter, the coconut farmers have been reduced to poverty, being totally dependent solely on copra.

Jun Castillo, a social entrepreneur leading this coconut economic revolution, calls this “copra-for-oil” dependence as the “rape” of the industry that has laid waste to 3.4 million hectares of coconut lands and impoverished 3.5 million farmers earning only P10,000 each a year, or P25 a day.
Castillo runs the one-of-a-kind exotic Coco House that showcases scores of products from coconuts and a chain of ice-cream outlets using coconuts, not dairy. He estimates roughly that, out of the low yield of “15 billion nuts produced a year, about 10 percent, or 1.5 billion nuts, are eaten; another 10 percent, or 1.5 billion nuts, are used by desiccators; and 12 billion mature nuts are used to produce copra.”

Life from coco water? “Of these 12 billion nuts, 95 percent to 98 percent of the coco-water content is thrown away with the meat left to dry in the sun exposed to elements, parasites and to carcinogenic aflatoxin growth. This dried meat, called copra, is sold to oil mills and undergo “refining, bleaching and deodorizing to produce coconut oil,” Castillo said.

Of this volume, 4 billion liters of coco water can be produced, which is more nutritious than fresh “buko water.” Many do not realize this can be processed into other products.

He reveals that, by boiling mature coco water, one can produce, after evaporation and varying levels of heat, “coco-not-soy” sauce and “coco patis,” which are common condiments in all Filipino households. This 4 billion liters of coco water, he says, can produce 200 million liters of coco-not-soy sauce.

Sweet returns from nectar. The bigger business is the production of “sweet coconut nectar,” coming from the sap of flowering coconut seeds, similar to how tuba (coconut wine) is harvested, but this time with better techniques enabling farmers to harvest nectar, but still allowing the small nuts to mature.
About 2 liters of nectar can be produced per tree per day and collected three times a day, which is significant, as this will generate daily jobs, unlike the copra-dependent system, wherein harvesting and work only happens every 45 days.

At current farm-gate prices of P25 per 350 milimeter of coco nectar, or about P75 per liter, a farmer producing conservatively 1 liter per tree per day—at 100 trees per hectare on the average—can earn P7,500 a day, or P225,000 a month, or P2.7 million, or almost P3 million a year. And that’s from selling raw nectar alone. Retail price of raw nectar hovers at about P50 to P60 per 350 ml, but golfers pay as much as P80 per 350 ml, Castillo revealed.

Much sweeter with coco sugar. But because farmers produce so much and cannot sell all as raw nectar, the bulk of their produce must be processed into other products from coco honey to coco sugar, etc. For coco sugar alone, farmers can earn much at the current price farm gate of P200 per kilo. This is easily produced through simple boiling, with the 85 percent water evaporating, leaving behind the 15 percent as crystallized coco sugar.

Prices of coco sugar are still high, as there is not enough volume produced yet. Castillo laments, however, that only a few rich have taken advantage of this rediscovered knowledge and technologies, but have used these technologies more for themselves and little to the benefit of coconut farmers on a mass scale.

There are many other products, like virgin coconut oil, or the richer nondairy vegetarian coco cream, which Castillo uses in producing his brand of ice cream. There are also other products from other parts of the coconut tree, which, if fully tapped, will, indeed, make the coconut live up to its name as the Tree of Life.

Go nuts with coco. Castillo said if the farmer can already get rich from existing low average yields of 49 nuts per tree, more would go nuts with the potentials of increasing yields to 300 nuts per tree through fertilization and irrigation. Even old senile nuts can increase yields substantially, but we need to plant more trees, owing to its vast potentials, he added.

You are not talking, yet, about increasing density of trees planted per hectare, or optimizing the empty idle spaces in-between trees that could be planted to other multicrops, or allotted for small livestock like goats or high-value free-range organic chicken. Thus, the potentials of earning P10 million per hectare is possible, fellow advocate Rey Sabio said.

Castillo is, thus, heading a movement pushing what he calls the “New Coconut Economy.” It is just lamentable everyone, including the presidentiables squabbling over a P70-billion coco levy. Some idiots even want to redistribute this P70 billion cash amount, or want to get a slice of the pie, when the logical direction is to forget about the levy, and the hundreds of billions in other assets from the coco levy, but allocate new funds to organize and empower farmers into cooperatives to rebuild the industry again.
Wipe out poverty through Coco? If Vietnam reduced poverty from 60 percent to 20 percent in only 20 years, we can do it in five years. We must reallocate resources toward the countryside, including coco regions, as well as learn from Franklin Roosevelt on how he created 4 million jobs in a month’s time at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

We can do the same in the coconut industry, but it will be faster if the government helps out, but not help the farmers out of business, as it normally protects some vested interests.
For typical farmer Ka Teddy Amor, 75, vice president for the Visayas of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Magsasaka nang Niyugan, the government has, likely, promised them for many decades “castles in the air” to no avail. They have also been misled by the Left to break down government’s proverbial “castles” of promises through insurgency with the same promises of a better sharing of the pie, only to lose lives and their livelihoods, with thousands of them migrating to Metro Manila to escape rural misery, only to end up in urban poverty.

It seems only a Jun Castillo can enlighten them to the right path of genuine empowerment—economic liberation.

You may reach Michael Alunan at e-mail

Michael Makabenta Alunan
Michael Alunan was for many years a full time business journalist tasked to mind other people’s businesses, but he tried venturing later into business going left and right, up and down, zig and zag till he broke down with heart surgeries for aortic valve replacement and two cases of aneurysm. He is now busy with pro-bono coop organizing and social entrepreneurship development for basic sectors and just keeps a weekly column for the love of writing and to have fun and make pun, while contributing to policy reforms and program development.