The coconut industry is important to the country’s agricultural sector. At present, almost 26% of all farmlands are planted with coconut trees, and provide livelihood to around four million coconut farmers.
The country’s coconut industry, however, is in a slump. According to reports, the income of 60% of coconut farmers and farm workers are below the poverty line.
The state of coconut farmers
Due to aggressive land conversion, thousands of farmers have been displaced from their lands and lost their livelihood.
DAR records show that majority of land-use conversion cases are in top coconut-producing regions: Central Luzon, Misamis Oriental and Southern Luzon. Thousands of hectares of coconut farmlands will be converted to tourism spots, infrastructures under the “Build, Build, Build” program, sports complexes, real estate and others.
Also, millions of coconut trees were destroyed by the typhoon Yolanda and by the Cocolisap pest which hit the Visayas and some parts of Luzon. In Leyte alone, the typhoon destroyed almost 33 million coconut trees.
Worse, the coconut industry is controlled by big landlords and businesses—from the land to different coconut products.
In Bicol, the landlord, often also the commercial miller, rakes in up to 58% of the earnimgs. For instance, for every 1,116 kilos of copra (approximately 18 sacks) bought at P17/kilo, the landlord gets P10,977. Meanwhile, the coconut farmer only gets 17.8% or P3,375 while nine farmworkers split up the remaining 18.4% or P3,500. Thus, the coconut farmer earns only P75/day for a 45-day harvest cycle. Meanwhile, farmworkers earn only P388 or P15.50/day within the same cycle .
Copra prices have continually declined last year. From P40/kilo, it fell to P13. In Sorsogon, the price of a whole coconut fell from P8-12/kilo to P2-4/kilo. According to coconut farmers, they earn only P4-P7/day, a far cry from their P500-P700 daily cost of living.
The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has no clear explanation on why copra and coconut prices are falling. The PCA and other agencies cites as an excuse the intensifying international competition of oil producers, such as the cheaper and more abundant supply of palm oil. They also said there is a copra oversupply.
Coconut oil prices, like gasoline prices, are controlled by big US and European corporations. These corporations buy most of the Philippines’ coconut products, enabling them to set prices.
An added burden is the resikada system where so-called moisture content is arbitrarily set and deducted by big buyers and oil mill owners from their buying price.
Meanwhile, farm workers earn only P200-3000 for every one thousand coconuts harvested, husked, transported and for doing other agricultural work. They are also victimized by widespread contractualization. A Department of Labor and Employment report indicate that all of the 1,500 employees of the Peter Paul Philippines, a coconut-processing plant worked as contractuals and received insufficient wages.
Coconut farmers also carry the burden of high prices under the Duterte regime’s TRAIN law. Because of this, coconut farmers almost earn next to nothing. Their yearly income fell from P20,000 to P7,200.
Government agencies turn a deaf ear to coconut farmer’s plight. They offer inconsequential subsidies, if at all. They do not have facilities or infrastructure to improve farming methods.
Struggle for coco levy funds
A coco levy was collected from small coconut farmers during the Marcos years. Up to the present, they have not benefited from this fund, which have reached P150 billion.
Previous regimes have used various methods to stop the distribution of the funds to the farmers and legitimate beneficiaries. From then until now, farmers have continually called for the distribution of the coco levy funds.
This January, hundreds of coconut farmers marched to the PCA to demand a dialogue and hold a protest. They demanded that the fund be given back and used to improve their livelihood. They have repeatedly written petitions to condemn the unwarranted deductions to the value of copra prices, raise coconut prices and immediate aid to coconut farmers severely affected by the industry’s decline.