Why we should go loco over coco
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-10-13
Following the visit of President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) to the US, the nation went loco over news that American sports lovers are going gaga over the ‘lowly’ buko juice. The mere fact that reporters here refer to anything consumed by your average masa as ‘lowly’ speaks volumes of how we take things for granted and how we allow golden opportunities to just pass us by.

If we only get our act together, the tree that gives us the buko juice can actually save us. The “tree of life” as the coconut tree is so aptly called, has been the source of great fortunes to this country from the time the Spanish colonizers decreed in 1642 the planting of coconut trees, initially to supply fiber from coconut husks for making rigs for the galleons.

In the late 1800s, copra from the Philippines became an important European import for the manufacture of soap and margarine. It was during the American occupation, in 1906, when the Philippines started commercial production of coconut oil, which later propelled the country into becoming the world’s leading producer for many years to come.

Enter 2011. The world has become health and environment conscious and from the tree of life springs new hope. Health buffs turn back to nature for the old remedies that now prove more reliable than commercial additive-laden sports drinks. Enter coco water, or our very own buko juice, the same stuff they used for emergency transfusions during World War II. 

Volumes and personal testimonies have been written and said about the benefits of virgin coconut oil in lowering cholesterol while coco-sugar is hailed for its low glycemic index, which makes it the sweetener of choice for diabetics.

Environment-wise, the coconut tree yields purely biodegradable byproducts — the coconut shell as charcoal, floor buffs, soup ladles, bowls; leaves and ribs as brooms, handicraft — the list is endless and can go as far as one’s imagination and creativity permits. The environment-friendly coir fibers from coconut husks are now replacing petroleum-based polyester fibers not only for being environment-friendly but also because of its superior strength, ductility and other features.

According to the Philippine Association of Coco Coir Exporters (PhilCoir), estimated demand for coco fiber by China’s bed mattress manufacturers alone already amounts to approximately 300,000 MT per year, and still growing.

Coco peat, a coconut fiber byproduct, is a substitute for peat moss and is used widely in horticulture, and in Japan, for animal bedding.
Geotextiles from coconut husks presents nature’s solution for desert and soil erosion control. In China alone, the desert area was placed at around 13% of total land area. A demonstration by a Philippine company of cocogeotextile’s effectiveness in covering a landfill in Guangzhou was said to have met the approval of Chinese authorities.

According to Trade and Industry Secretary Greg Domingo, the interagency drive to optimize the possibilities of the coconut is at high gear but various government agencies and private entrepreneurs must get their act together.

Although the Philippines is a bigger producer of coconut, India and Sri Lanka are major suppliers of coco coir products. If the industry wants to compete, it would help a lot if they can find a market for coco peat, so that they could optimize yields from the coco fiber byproduct. The industry also cites the lack of modern machines and credit financing for SMEs to purchase machinery and have some working capital.

Research and development, a very vital component of market success must be seriously undertaken, well funded and sustained. Market research on world demand must be thorough.

So ‘lowly’ we regard the coconut tree that we have not even tried to advocate the uses and features of its various byproducts. Despite the fact that our elders had long been believers of the superior performance of the walis tingting or the bunot, we see many households in the city using branded foreign broom products. We fail to believe in what is our very own. We had to wait for the world to recognize the wonderful features of our own coconut tree before we get ourselves to promote it.

For example, the industry cites coco peat’s superior absorption capacity as a soil conditioner, yet we need to promote a wider appreciation of this.

On the other hand, while coco sugar may already have captured the interest of foreign markets, its processors are mostly small entrepreneurs who lack sufficient production capacity and the right technology to meet standards and safety requirement of the foreign markets. It cannot even sell in the domestic market because of its higher price (100 percent more than the price of muscovado or refined sugar).

About a quarter of land is devoted to coconuts in the Philippines. A third of Filipinos directly or indirectly depend on the coconut industry.

Trade and Industry Secretary Greg Domingo recognizes agri-based industries as one of the two priorities (the other one is tourism) that offer best potentials for job generation and countryside development. Coconut and bamboo are the subsectors that will get most attention for development and investment promotion.

So next time you consider the bunot or the walis tingting or buko juice as lowly, think again. You may be passing up an opportunity of a lifetime.

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