Millions of Philippine coconut farmers face a growing crisis in their livelihoods, an official said Tuesday, as their trees become too old to produce the fruit that is a mainstay of the country’s exports.
More than 44 million coconut trees — 14 percent of the national total — are past their most fertile age, and without a sufficient replanting programme the industry could be in trouble, warned Euclides Forbes, administrator of the official Philippine Coconut Authority.
He said the government does not have enough money to support the industry, on which 25 percent of the population depends, and private planters are not doing enough.
“If the trees are not replaced, the fall in our coconut production will accelerate. In three to five years, we will not be able to meet export demand,” he told AFP.
He did not say why farmers are not planting new coconuts on their own, but in the past they relied on government incentives to boost production.
Coconut products like dried coconut meat and coconut oil are the Philippines’ largest agricultural exports, earning $1.508 billion dollars for the country last year, official figures show.
Coconut Authority figures show production in 2011 is expected to hit only 2.57 million tonnes, down more than 13 percent on 2010 while coconut oil exports will amount to only 1.5 billion tonnes, down 30 percent on the year earlier.
Forbes did not say how much the ageing coconut trees had cost the country but said the decline in production and exports this year could be traced directly to the old trees.
He warned the shortfall could force consumers to switch to alternatives like palm oil.
The Philippines has three million coconut farmers, but 25 million Filipinos — more than one in four people — are dependent on the industry, he said.
Coconut trees are considered mature when they are seven to 25 years old and typically bear 40-65 fruit per year, Forbes said.
He said many of the ageing trees are more than 60 years old and produce only 10 fruit a year and sometimes none at all, making them “senile”.
The government is to spend 220 million pesos ($5.2 million) planting new trees next year, but this represents less than 10 percent of the old trees, Forbes warned.
I grew up in Batangas, and most of our farmers rely on the coconut for their livelihood. Planting new coconut is a task of the farmer itself, and must not rely on the government. If they will give incentive for planting new tree, then it is just an added bonus. It should not be the main objective in planting coconut tree. The issue is quite serious if left unattended. Identify those barangays that are heavily relying in coconut industry and start the campaign there to re populate the ageing tree. If needed, tap the local schools or community group to help on the project. I hope it is not too late for us to realize the seriousness of this matter.