Siquijor Coconut Farmer Leaders & Industry Stakeholders Dialogue

Maraming salamat kay Rep. Ramon Rocamora sa imbitasyon para maging bahagi ng pagtitipon ninyo ngayong araw dito sa Siquijor, ang Coconut Farmer Leaders and Industry Stakeholders Dialogue. Masaya akong makasama kayong lahat ngayong araw.

Alam nyo naman na basta usaping agrikultura ay prayoridad ko. Katulad ng lagi kong pinapaalala, ang ating bansa ay isang agricultural country. Agrikultura ang bumubuhay sa two-thirds ng ating populasyon. Kaya lahat tayo ay dapat lang na pagtulungan ang pagpapaunlad at pagpapalago ng agriculture sector.

Bilang senador at kasalukuyang chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, ako naman po ay tuloy-tuloy lang ang pagsulong ng mga panukalang batas na makapagbibigay ng kinakailangang reforms at kaakibat na benepisyo sa mga Pilipinong magsasaka at mga mangingisda at sa lahat ng tinatawag na mga stakeholders o involved sa agriculture, kasama rin ang mga agricultural workers at ang mga agri-entrepreneurs.

Nakalulungkot kasi na kahit agricultural country ang Pilipinas, ang mga magsasaka at mangingisda pa rin ang among the poorest in the country. At ang mga magniniyog na katulad ninyo ay ang pinakamahirap sa sektor. Gusto natin baguhin ang sitwasyon na iyan Gusto natin iahon sa kahirapan ang mga magsasaka at mga mangingisda.

Ang isa sa mga naisabatas na  at masaya kong ibinabalita sa inyong lahat dito, ay ang pag-apruba namin noong isang linggo lang ng batas creating the almost PhP100-billion coconut levy trust fund. Ilang dekada rin hinintay iyan ng 3.5 million coconut farmers sa ating bansa.

Pasado na po finally ang Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.  It is among the priority legislative measures pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) noong isang buwan.

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).

Early this month lang din, nai-file ko na rin ang accompanying bill na magre-reconstitute sa membership ng PCA board. Kaya tapos na ang paghihintay ninyong mga magniniyog, mapapakinabangan na ninyo ang pondong para sa inyo talaga.  Taon-taon, PhP5 billion ang amount na gagastusin mula sa coco levy fund.

The PhP5 billion fund will be spent for the following: 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%.

Ang pondo mula sa coco levy ay hiwalay pa sa  PhP10 billion mula sa annual budget of the PCA na galing sa national budget for the development of the coconut industry. At ang PhP10 billion na iyan naman 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%.

Hangad natin na malaki ang maitutulong ng mga pondong iyan sa inyong lahat para mas mapalago ninyo ang inyong mga niyugan at ma-improve rin ang mga proseso, makinarya at iba pa, para lumago ang mga negosyo ninyo at umunlad ang inyong pamumuhay. Napakalaki ng potensyal at napakaraming mga opportunities sa coconut sector.

Last week, I attended the National Coconut Week organized by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) na kasabay ng 1st World Coconut Congress. At doon, kitang kita ang mga oportunidad na meron sa industriya. And we are in the best position to grab those opportunities because the Philippines is among the world’s top producers and exporters of raw coconut the biggest exporter of coconut oil in the world.

Pero, hindi pa natin nama-maximize ang full potential ng industriya. Kaya naman ang mga coconut farmers ay among the poorest pa rin.  According to the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP), we have not yet fully tapped the full potential na lumaki ang kita mula sa coconut products. I have also been pointing that out, hindi kasi natin pino- process ang coconuts, and the earnings of farmers are quite limited. Pinapaubaya natin sa ibang bansa ang processing part.

There is 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 have the advantage, but we only produce and export raw coconuts, not value-added coconut products. Again, it’s because, we do not do processing.

Kaya kailangan ng mga coconut industry stakeholders, kasama na ang mga magniniyog at farm owners to level up. Para mas maging equipped and competent to seize the opportunities out there. Kaya naman kami, we are doing our best to help coconut farmers to beat poverty and to keep up with new trends and technologies in order to become more profitable and competitive.

Besides the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Fund I cited earlier, 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. At katulad ng nabanggit ko kanina, may mga naisabatas na tayong mga 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.

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, kapag naiahon na natin sila sa kahirapan, nasolusyunan na rin natin ang poverty problem sa ating bansa. So, ipagpatuloy lang natin ang pagtutulungan para sa kaunlaran nating lahat at ng ating bansa. Muli, maraming salamat at mabuhay ang mga Pilipinong magniniyog!