By Zac B. Sarian
A new agribusiness book that our government policymakers, legislators, and officials of the Department of Agriculture should read was released recently. This is titled Agribusiness and Rural Progress: Actions for Poverty Reduction authored by Dr. Rolando T. Dy of the University of Asia and the Pacific.
With hope that once they read the book, our leaders would come to realize how much they have neglected the coconut industry. Coconut has long been a leading export commodity from the Philippines yet the government has not given the support the industry deserves.
Take these figures. Coconut occupies some 3.5 million hectares and some three million farmers and workers are dependent on this crop. Sadly, the huge number of coconut farmers is among the poorest of the poor.
Why? One reason is very low yield, which according to Dr. Dy’s book is a dismal average yield of 40 mature nuts per tree. With about 150 trees per hectare, the per-hectare yield, a two-hectare farm will not be able to buy even only the food needs of an average family.
But coconut farms could be a viable source of income for the rural people if only the government could pour some of its resources to increase the income from coconut farms. There are a number of ways. One possibility is to plant high-value intercrops like coffee, cacao, lanzones, mangosteen. There are also vegetables that could take partial shade of the coconut trees.
Another possibility is to raise animals under the coconuts. Cattle, sheep, and others could be pastured under the tees. Better still, forage crops could be grown under the coconuts that receive ample sunlight and the green feeds are cut and brought to the confined animals.
To achieve the goal of increasing farmers’ income from their coconut farms, the Department of Agriculture should conduct seminars and demonstrations on raising animals and crops under coconuts. It should pour a big portion of its budget into honest-to-goodness extension service to serve the needs of the farmers.
Of course the discourse on the coconut industry is just one of the many topics of interest. The book contains 86 articles that discuss the global and ASEAN fronts, local and regional perspectives, rural development, governance, and commodity focus.