Monday, August 9, 2010

RP coconut agencies: Same bananas

In the first quarter of 2009, Philippine coconut exports plunged 60 percent whereas total revenues in 2008 reached $1.5 billion. It is thus alarming to note this decline in 2009. Tragically, very little is heard from those in government charged with ensuring that the coconut industry of the Philippines prospers and grows.

I have been involved in the advocacies for the coconut industry for the past several years, seeing it not only as an agricultural commodity with the greatest potential to raise the national per capita income but also as an industrial raw material that can multiply our nation’s income from our 340 million or so coconut trees. If only the country develops all of the Philippine coconut’s potentials in terms of cosme-ceuticals, nutra-ceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals, it may well rival the BPOs in dollar earnings at $10 billion, if not more.

In 2009, I attended a series of meetings of coconut industry and government leaders, where it was once held at the Philippine Coconut Authority (Philcoa). Representatives from the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) and Congress were there, as was the staff of Philcoa — yet the Philcoa head was never around. Rep. Leonardo Montemayor was very active in those meetings. But I never got to see the Philcoa head either in any of the other activities conducted by the coconut sector organizations.

If you ask around today who heads the Philcoa, very few people will be able to give you an answer, unlike in previous administrations where the agency’s administrator was among the most recognizable public figures.

Sadly, an even more significant government coconut agency that has also been led by lackluster characters is the CIIF, which controls the funds of the sector.

We need to revive the public and government’s consciousness about the coconut industry and its bountiful potentials. The first 100 days of the new administration has slowly ticked by yet nothing is heard about its policies for this sector. The coconut sector has already suffered by omission during the inaugural speech and the State of the Nation Address of this new government. It therefore leads many to ask if the PeNoy administration has anybody in its team with coconuts at all.

If they don’t, then it’s high time they get some coconuts: The Philippine Coconut Week’s festivities are slated on Aug. 12 to 15 of this week, and the welfare of 25 million Filipinos directly and indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for livelihood (that’s over 25 percent of the population of 90 million) are staked in the success or failure of this effort to bring the vital issues of the coconut industry to the attention of our national leaders.

As I have written many times before, and discussed in our Global News Network (GNN) show, the coconut tree is a tree of unbounded potentials. Its water is the healthiest natural drink which provides a thousand times more nutrients than sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade. The Taiwanese and Chinese know this better than many Filipinos; hence, they import our coconuts even at a premium price.

Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) is a fantastic health supplement that neutralizes HIV and, as recently discovered by Western medicine, Alzheimer’s disease. I take VCO every day and have my own adobo formulation where I mix minced garlic, coco vinegar, and calamansi with over three tablespoons of VCO.

I use VCO on my hair as well before bathing, and I am the only one who doesn’t need to use hair dye among 10 siblings.

VCO’s potent health values are well understood, but its popularity has ebbed due to lack of promotion and advertising, as well as, due to deliberate sabotage by Big Pharma in cahoots with some Department of Health authorities.

Other parts of the coconut are also valuable: Its sap produces sugar of the best glycemic quality (30 in the index) for health. Its husks as mattings could have been used in the massive oil gush in the Gulf of Mexico if there had been enough supply, though these are already used to prevent soil erosion and in re-greening desert areas. It is much sought after in cosmetics for the finest oil is provides.

Of even greater potential is the coconut’s industrial and chemical application (even for industrial explosives), which could be produced in the Philippines if basic infrastructure were to be provided.

On Tuesday, Aug. 10, the “Politics (and Economics) Today” episode on GNN will feature a discussion on “Coconut: The Savior Commodity” with coconut sector leaders Sonny Villariba, Gerry Natividad, and Joey Faustino. I call the coconut “the savior commodity” as it has the potential to save the national economy. And unlike BPOs which are a servant industry dependent on the industrial economies, the coconut sector is a production industry and when developed to its fullest promotes economic independence, reduces imports, expands import substitution (such as replacing the $1-billion milk and related imports), multiplies layers of values from processed coconut exports, and builds the domestic industrial and chemical industries.

The potentials of the coconut industry to save the economy and the nation will never be realized if the “same bananas” stay on in the government coconut agencies. This sector needs leadership that knows its coconuts and knows how to use those coconuts.

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