Coconut sunrise, sunset
I once wrote a column piece, “Coconut sunrise” (4/25/13), on the amazing wonders and possibilities of the coconut that have not been fully tapped because there is little government support for coconut advocates’ out-of-the-box thinking and daring. In other words, the coconut industry has been seen mainly as a source of cooking oil. A pity because the wonder tree—its fruits, especially—has so many other possibilities that can even be more in demand worldwide and, therefore, more profitable.
Thanks to Harry Belafonte’s hit song “Coconut Woman,” the wonders of the coconut had been immortalized in song long before coconut advocates of this decade aggressively pushed it to its deserved place in the world’s diet and quashed the West’s self-serving black prop.
Coconut refers not only to the edible fruit (or nut) but to the entire wonder tree—from root to crown—that this country has been blessed to have plenty of. The Coconut Society of the Philippines had come out with a position paper titled “Fresco Processing versus Copra Processing.” Think of the coconut as a fruit, a health drink. And, yes, even as a vegetable to be harvested (as ubod) every so many years and grow it as such, but in a different way.
Advocates of fresco (or fresh) processing, among them the Philippine Coconut Society, argues that the coconut farmer will earn more by NOT producing copra, but “by selling whole nuts for fresh processing.” This has been studied, computed and tried, but still there are few daring producers and little government support. (More on this at another time.)
And now the coconut industry is facing the gloomy presence of a pest that has wiped out more than a million coconut trees in the past year or so. Delayed concerted action is killing more coconuts faster than one can sing “Coconut Woman.”
Recently the Philippine Coconut Society and BalikProbinsiya (a countryside entrepreneurship advocacy group) issued a statement on this most unwelcome “coconut challenge” or cocopest. I give space to their lamentations:
“Both the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and Department of Agriculture (DA) appear incapable if not clueless as to how to contain and cure the virulent coconut diseases and insect infestations that, as of latest count, have destroyed over 1,000,000 trees in Batangas, 250,000 in Laguna, 400,000 in Quezon and 150,000 in Cavite. And since local government units (LGUs) depend on the knowhow that are supposed to come from DA and PCA, LGUs probably wouldn’t be able to help much as the Calabarzon coconut casualty count passes the 2,000,000 mark.
“Assured by civil service laws of tenure and compensation and protected by their respective padrinos, government bureaucrats have no reason to do any actual work for ‘P-Noy’s bosses’ but just regularly collect their fat paychecks after 15 days of shuffling paper and endlessly attending new seminars to eat good food, engage in gossip with fellow bureaucrats and collect ‘honoraria.’ Some supposedly specialized personnel don’t even stay in their assigned postings (except during paydays) but manage to move around the country like tourists… That’s one reason why the infestation has reached its current extent.
“PCA seems convinced that producing predators is the solution—but can PCA technical staff train people to raise the predators and deploy these to affected areas? Scheduling problems have cropped up, due to the capriciousness of a diva-entomologist who insists that all training must be held at the PCA Alaminos nursery rather than onsite at each major plantation. But the question remains: Will predators be effective? It didn’t work too well when last attempted because too many insects had been created due to the long time it took to bring out the predators. And has anyone projected the possible threats of predator multiplication to the Philippine environment? That cure may turn out to be worse than the disease.
“Evaluating the predator option has done little more than provide a few favored bureaucrats an opportunity to go on a junket to Indonesia to look for insects to import to the Philippines, as if we didn’t have enough insects and leeches here already…
“Announcements by DA and PCA that P40,000,000 would fund a SAGIP team for a ‘spray-and-prune’ effort also raised questions. First, how is this new plan different from the one done by PCA’s SICAT team and on which PCA spent P20,000,000? This SAGIP is a rerun on a wider scale and won’t succeed. Buying and positioning cranes and chainsaws are equally preposterous as indiscriminate chemical cures, giving new meaning to what the ‘C’ in PCA stands for. In the end, this will just add more parts of the Philippines to the infestation map.
“Admission of a problem and failures to solve it is a healthy sign. Some even say that DA/PCA may already have a cure; otherwise they would just stonewall on this. An announcement of a solution would certainly be good for all concerned. Hopefully, the rumors that a successful trial has been held in Bay, Laguna, and is now being evaluated by [Secretary Proceso] Alcala’s office has some basis. Let’s all pray that such is the case.
“But until such is confirmed, it’s up to individual plantation owners, subsistence farmers and wage earners to now think of ways to save their farm-based livelihoods. In this regard, larger corporations and landowners may wish to enlist the participation of smaller farmer compatriots to develop an appropriate response to the Calabarzon Coconut Challenge. Already, concerned plantations have begun to take steps to be more proactive given government’s failures.”
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