32nd National Coconut Week & 1st World Coconut Congress

Thank you very much to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for inviting me to be part of the 32nd National Coconut Week and the 1st World Coconut Congress.

I am happy to be here with all of you and I hope you will have another successful celebration of Coco Week this year. Of course, we also hope that the first ever World Coconut Congress will be equally, if not more successful. The participants of which, I would like to personally welcome to the country. We all hope that you will have a very nice and productive stay here in the Philippines.

I would like to commend the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP) in cooperation with the PCA, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and various chambers of commerce for organizing the 1st World Coconut Congress.  I am sure it will open up numerous opportunities, not only business-related ones but as well as opportunities in terms of sharing of best practices, information, technology and others among the participants. All of which will help in the growth of the coconut sector.

As most of us know, Coco Week is a yearly celebration led by PCA as mandated by Proclamation 142, to pay tribute to the coconut as the so-called “Tree of Life”.

These are exciting times for the coconut sector in the country. The fact that the first World Coconut Congress is being held here must mean that we have a lot to offer to the world as far as coconuts are concerned. To begin with, the Philippines is among the world’s top producers and exporters of raw coconut the biggest exporter of coconut oil in the world.

But despite that, coconut industry stakeholders in the country still have not fully seized, utilized or maximized the huge potential of the industry and market. For instance, coconut farmers remain as the poorest in the country.

As UCAP cited we have not yet fully tapped the full potential to rake in additional revenues from coconut products. I have also been pointing that out. Since we do not process coconuts, the earnings of farmers are quite limited. To quote UCAP Chairperson Dean Lao Jr., he said and I agree that “Much value-adding is done overseas.”

There is such a high global demand for coconut products and we should be in a good position to supply those given our position as the second largest coconut producer in the world, accounting for nearly 30% of global production.  We are in a really good position to corner a huge chunk of the regional and global markets. But we only produce and export raw coconuts, not value-added coconut products.

Thus, as the current chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, I support events and activities such as this because it is a good platform or venue where local industry players can learn new ideas, information and innovation. Likewise, as cited earlier, it will present various opportunities also. It can also open our local players’ eyes to vast opportunities out there that they can seize, besides learning about new trends and strategies.

It may take a while for those new opportunities to start trending here, so to speak. So before then, we are of course doing our best to help coconut farmers and other industry stakeholders to beat poverty and to keep up with new trends and technologies in order to become more profitable and successful.

Just the other week, in fact, we have passed a law in the Senate, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act that will create the almost PhP100-billion coconut levy trust fund for the 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country. It is among the priority legislative measures cited by President Rodrigo Duterte as priority during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month.

The fund will be managed by the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) which will be composed of four representatives from the government (one each from the PCA, Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Budget and Management); one coconut industry stakeholder; and six representatives from coconut farmers (two representatives each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao).

Last week, I have also filed the accompanying bill that will bring abou the reconstitution of the PCA. Taon-taon, PhP5 billion ang amount na gagastusin mula sa coco levy fund para sa kapakanan ng mga magniniyog.

The PhP5 billion will be spent for the following programs: shared facilities, 30%; scholarship program, 15%; empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives, 15%; farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency, 30%; and health and medical benefits, 10%.

That yearly fund allocation is separate from the automatic appropriation of PhP10 billion to the annual budget of the PCA from the national budget, which is for the development of the coconut industry. The PhP10 billion will be earmarked for the following programs: infrastructure, 20%; planting, replanting and establishment of nurseries, 20%; intercropping, 10%; shared facilities, 20%; research and development, disease control and eradication, 10%; fertilization, 5%; new products and derivatives of cococut oil products, 5%; and credit through LandBank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, 10%.

We are doing everything we can to help the coconut industry stakeholders. We are helping coconut farmers to beat poverty through the funds and by providing them with training opportunities among others. Personally, I do this through legislations.

One of which is Republic Act (RA) 10848 or the act extending the period of implementation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund up to year 2022.  ACEF was supposed to expire on December 2015, but we successfully passed the extension. ACEF provides farmers with not only access to training or education opportunities, but also it will help modernize and mechanize farm facilities.

Eighty per cent (80%) of the (ACEF) fund will be in the form of credit with minimal interest, which shall not exceed five million pesos per project loan to cooperatives; and maximum of one million pesos to small farmers. For the remainder of the fund of 20 percent—ten percent (10%) will be extended as grants for research and development (R&D) of agricultural and fishery products, and the commercialization of such, including the upgrading of research facilities, of qualified state universities and colleges (SUCs); and ten percent (10%) will be used for the funding of scholarships for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

We need to make our farmers and fisherfolks more competent, so they can be more competitive. Based on studies, among the barriers that keep them from being more successful and competitive are lack of technical expertise, lack of mechanization, lack of access to cheap credit at financial literacy. I have been focusing on removing those barriers.

Kaya naman, in all the bills I have authored for the fisheries, sugar and other agricultural sectors, that have been passed into law, I made sure that there is an allocation of adequate funds to provide for research and development, further education or training of farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers. Through further training and education also, farmers are learning new methods of doing things as well as new equipment to help them.

Coconut farmers for example, are now aware that by merely intercropping coconut with other crops such as coffee or cacao, they could earn PhP10,000 a month. Moreover, if they plant using the new variety of coconut seedlings, their nut harvest can triple from 40 nuts per tree to 150 nuts per tree.

I am glad that during this three-day event, you will also conduct seminars and training. I hope many will attend them to learn from your resource speakers who are experts in their field.

By helping coconut farmers, we are making a significant impact in the poverty reductions efforts of the government. There are eight million crop farmers here in the Philippines— 3.5 million of them are coconut farmers and another 3.5 million are rice farmers. So, if we can lift them out of poverty, we have basically solved the poverty problem in our country. So, as the event’s theme cites, “the time is now” to further boost the coconut industry. On that note, thank you and more power!