Coco farmers can become rich on ‘buko’ juice
In a series of front-page articles, the Inquirer reported the plight of coconut farmers described as among the “poorest of the poor.”
The report said coconut plantation owners and farmers were exploited by the Marcos government, which collected a levy on copra and used the money for purposes that did not benefit coconut landowners and farmers.
Coconut plantation owners and farmer-tenants are also at the mercy of copra traders or middlemen who buy copra from them at a low price and which they sell high to millers.
If Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s plan for the coconut industry works, coconut plantation owners and tenant-farmers will become among the country’s richest.
Alcala is cashing in on the great demand for coconut water—locally known as “buko” juice—in Europe, the United States and China.
In a dinner meeting Monday arranged by this writer for Alcala and my friend Matthew Grecsec, an American whose US company buys coconut water, the agriculture secretary talked enthusiastically about the bright future of the coconut industry.
Alcala said the Department of Agriculture is focusing on the replanting of coconut trees to replace the old ones, which bear fewer nuts.
Grecsec told Alcala that Brazil, a major exporter of oranges to the US, is currently involved in the massive planting of coconut trees to answer the big demand of coconut water in the US and Europe.
Buko juice is now preferred by health-conscious Americans and Europeans over energy drinks because it’s natural and healthy, Grecsec said.
Coconut water, he said, contains fewer calories and less sugar, and is good even for people with diabetes.
It is used as a base for other fruit drinks like pineapple and orange because of its low caloric content.
The demand for coconut water will last for many years as borne by the fact that Brazil is involved in the massive planting of coconut trees, which take about 10 years to bear fruit.
Since the Philippines is a major coconut grower, it has an advantage over Brazil and other countries since it has millions of standing coconut trees.
Alcala told Grecsec he was bent on eliminating middlemen who buy low from farmers and sell high to millers.
Trading centers for coconut water, copra and other coco by-products, would be set up in coconut-producing provinces, he added.
The coconut farmers can sell their produce directly to millers or exporters at the trading centers, Alcala said.
He added that his trading center experiment in Quezon province, where he was once a congressman, was successful in eliminating middlemen.
As a result, many farmers now drive sports utility vehicles
(SUVs) because they earn big money for their produce, the agriculture secretary said.
Another project that the agriculture department is undertaking is helping coconut farmers plant vegetables and other crops under coconut trees to supplement their income.
Alcala welcomed Grecsec’s coconut water-buying venture in the country.
The agriculture chief said he and his staff would meet again with Grecsec, who made many suggestions on the coconut industry, to create an economic “roadmap” for coconut farmers.
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