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11:23 PM November 23rd, 2012

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By: Cris Evert B. Lato, November 23rd, 2012 11:23 PM

SOUTHERN Leyte businessmen want to raise coconut production to benefit some 64,000 families. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

MACROHON, Southern Leyte—Lands will be fertilized and coconut trees replanted in the next six years to revitalize the coconut industry in Southern Leyte.

The aim is to raise coconut production to a volume valued at P1.4 billion by 2018, to benefit some 64,000 families.

At least P200 million worth of seedlings and fertilization measures over three years are needed once the Coconut Rehabilitation Road Map is finalized, according to Robert Castañares, president of the Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SLCCI).

Funding will come from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), which has noted that the country’s coconut output is only 30 percent of its potential capacity.

Eastern Visayas, where Southern Leyte belongs, is the Philippines’ No. 2 coconut-producing region. It is composed of Southern Leyte, Leyte, Biliran, Samar, Eastern Samar and Northern Samar provinces.

Southern Leyte was earlier identified as a pilot area in the region for the rehabilitation program.

“They (PCA officials) actually have an existing program but were not able to successfully implement it in Region 8 due to the lack of a comprehensive implementation plan and support from the stakeholders,” Castañares said.

2-track plan

Southern Leyte could move forward and improve its economy on two tracks—tourism and agriculture, he said.

The tourism thrust has taken off following last year’s launch of a tourism promotion package that tagged Southern Leyte as the “playground” of Eastern Visayas. One of the tourism attractions being promoted is the Agas-Agas zipline in Sogod town, the country’s longest zipline at 1.5 kilometers long and about 115 meters high.

“We are now working on agriculture by starting with coconut, which the province is known to grow in abundance,” Castañares.

The road map is a joint effort of the SLCCI, PCA, the provincial government and the Diocese of Maasin. The rehabilitation strategy also involves intercropping coconut trees with coffee and banana to serve as the farmers’ “in-between income” before the coconut harvest.

Coconut is the second most dominant crop in Eastern Visayas based on total output of agricultural products, according to the Eastern Visayas regional development plan of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). Palay leads at 50 percent of total output followed by coconut at 33 percent and banana, 7.3 percent.

In a letter to Neda Secretary Arsenio Balisacan in August, the SLCCI recommended an industry-clustering strategy, which is built around dominant agricultural products, such as coconut.

Castañares also wrote Neda in March to seek a clear regional development plan that would guide the business sector on how to move forward in terms of investments, business operation and expansion.

Castañares said Eastern Visayas could not rely on just the manufacturing sector, which is heavily dependent on Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp. (Pasar) and Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp. (Philphos). Both plants are found in Isabel town in Leyte.

“Our proposal is to use coconut as a platform to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector by way of producing coconut-related products like coco sugar, coco nectar, coco coir, activated carbon through micro, small and medium enterprises,” Castañares said.

The region’s gross domestic product dropped from 5.2 percent in 2004 to 1.8 percent in 2009. Poverty incidence went up from 37.6 percent in 2003 to 41.4 percent in 2009.

Church role

To ensure the success of the coconut rehabilitation program, Castañares urged the Church to help disseminate information and encourage people’s participation.

“The Church will assist in the information campaign, values formation, monitoring of the distribution of fertilizers and seedlings, and project evaluation through their basic ecclesiastical communities (BECs) and parish priests,” he said. The BECs are grassroots organizations.

Farmers must realize the values of hard work, taking responsibility and self-reliance to bring them out of poverty, he said.

Bishop Precioso Cantillas of the Diocese of Maasin has declared full support for the chamber’s initiative. The priests have already been briefed about Southern Leyte’s economic development framework.

A road show will follow in each municipality, Castañares said.

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