Reviving the tree of life: PCAARRD lays plan for coco industry revitalization

by John Paul Omac

Heralded as the “tree of life”, coconuts were considered the lifeblood of Philippine agriculture, topping the list of Philippine agricultural products for export. However, with the devastation brought by coconut scale insects (CSI) and other natural factors, such as the recent typhoon Glenda, the coconut industry is steadily losing its vitality.

Scientists are continuously developing innovations which can help revitalize the Philippine coconut industry, as highlighted by the exhibit of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) in the 7th Syensaya, September 10-12, at the Copeland Gymnasium, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

The exhibit presented the Industry Strategic S &T Plan (ISP) for coconuts which hopes to address the major issues and concerns of the coconut industry through the use of S & T innovations.

According to Ervin Naval, science research analyst of PCAARRD, the aim of the ISP for coconuts is to increase palm production and reduce losses due to pest.

“This will lead to the increase not just the farmers’ income but the whole industry as well,” Naval added.

Currently, the coconut palm covers most of the landscape in the 68 out of the country’s 79 provinces, with more than 3.4 million farmers directly relying on it.

However, the national average yield hangs at 46 nuts/tree a year—way below the global benchmark of 120/nuts a year.

The dwindling productivity of coconuts, among other factors ultimately makes Coconut farmers one of the most marginalized in the agricultural sector.

About 96% of coconut farmers are considered non-bankable by corporate banking sector, preventing them from borrowing capital they can use to improve their farms.

Through the Coconut ISP, PCAARRD, in partnership with Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) drafted a timeline spanning from 2013 to 2015 which contains their actions and expected outcomes.

Primarily, they employ genomics—the sequencing and rearranging of DNA to improve desired traits such as high nut yield, high oil yield, pest resistance, and drought resistance.

By 2015, they aim to increase the yield of coconuts from 46/nuts a year to 100/nuts a year.

Naval also said that if plans materialize by 2015, they would have reduced yield losses by up to 13.8 million nuts.

“The reduce yield losses and other innovations to develop high value products like cocosap, cocosugar, and others would lead to a 44% increase in income of the farmers,”he added.

Aside from Coconut, PCAARRD also showcases their innovations for banana, mango, and tilapia.

In the end, they envision the Philippine agri-fisheries industry to be “smarter and more sustainable” through scientific innovations.

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