Monday, February 28, 2011

Bicol coconut farmers enjoy windfall from high copra price
By Danny O. Calleja

CASTILLA, Sorsogon, Feb 28 (PNA) -– When the farm gate price of copra in Bicol was at its P15 per kilo level nearly a year ago, 40-year old Cleto Maraño here would earn a measly P12,750 per year from a hectare of coconut farm he owns and he himself tends to.

Suddenly, the copra value shot up to a level beyond his imagination — P46.75 per kilo these days, the highest it has achieved in the history of coconut product trading in the region-- arranging a bonanza for Bolso and all the other coconut farmers in Bicol numbering around 300,000, according to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

A National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) figure puts about 2.1 million Bicolanos or nearly 50 percent of the region’s total population is either directly or indirectly benefited by the local coconut industry.

According to Maraño, “Coconut is like gold now. Every nut is precious that even the cost of raw matured fruits that Bicolano households use for most of their daily dishes cooked in coconut milk has also staged a big leap from P5 to P25 per nut. Young coconuts sold by street vendors are up to P25 each from P10 since the middle of last year.”

He said his earnings from copra under the present pricing level has multiplied threefold.

“It was P1,600 before and now it’s P4,800 per harvest done every 45 days or one and a half months. Ito na yata ang regalo sa aming mga magniniyog ni Presidente Noynoy. Maraming salamat (It looks like a gift of President Noynoy to us coconut farmers. Thanks a lot),” Maraño said.

He recalled that the most distressing period for copra producers in his 20 years of being one of them was in 2002 when the price of copra plummeted to only a little more than P2 per kilo.

“Most of us here temporarily abandoned copra processing during that time and shifted to other crops like rootcrops and vegetables for our livelihood,” Maraño added.

The present price situation that is highly favorable to the local coconut industry particularly to the farmers and plantation owners according to PCA regional director Eduardo Allorde is mainly attributable to the tremendous rise in demand for coconut oil in the international market triggered by the effects of the prevailing climate change around the globe.

“There were heavy snow falls, blizzards and massive floods in America, Europe and other parts of the world and because of these weather abnormalities, the supply of coconut oil competing products like soya bean, sunflower and kernel oils was reduced dramatically paving the way for our top export product to take the reign and command a shoot up price,” Allorde explained.

Unfortunately, the PCA regional chief said, the local coconut industry is also suffering from the consequences of erratic weather condition due to the climate change while pests like brontispa or coconut leaf beetle continue to inflict heavy losses that was why Bicol’s copra production in 2010 was only at 430, 054 metric tons which was valued at P11.9 billion.

Under this production level, Allore said a farmer in Bicol tending to a hectare of plantation earns around P39,000 per year which is a very significant improvement from the P15 per kilo pricing level that could only raise for the same farmer only around P13,000 annually.

In 1997 when weather was fine and the pests were manageable, the region’s copra production was at 473, 077 metric tons then down to as low as 287, 631 in 1999 due to a dry spell and a series of typhoons, according to records of the NEDA regional office here. (PNA)