Coconut Industry Needs Government Help

A MANUFACTURER of coconut oil- natural herbal soaps and household care products yesterday urged the government to help alleviate the livelihood of millions of farmers in the wake of a worsening crisis besetting the coconut industry.

Ma. Aleli V. Pansacola, president of the Daila Herbal Community Enterprises Inc., a manufacturer of natural herbal products in the Philippines said that government should do remedial measures to prevent the collapse of the country's only remaining industry which earned more than $ 900 million in export proceeds last year at the height of good copra prices worldwide.

Prices for copra fell from a high of P18 per kilogram (buying rate in mills) to an all-time low of P7 to P7.50 at the mills and P2.20 at the farm. The slump is due to the depressed world prices for coconut oil.

"Although low prices of coconut oil are favorable to my business in the short term, the ripple effects of the depression will have a devastating consequence on the economy, making life more difficult for the entire nation," Pansacola explained.

Copra is the dried coconut meat from which oil can be extracted.

Economists also sounded the alarm, warning that the economy will soon feel the pinch of sliding copra prices as farmers drastically cut down on spending, which will, in turn, reduce sales of consumer products like food and other basic items.

At the same time, coconut farmers are also threatened by a move of the Soap and Detergent Association of the Philippines (SDAP), which recently sued the government for the continued implementation of E0 259, the law that compels the use of 60-percent local coconut oil in the formulation of surface-active agents (surfactants).

More than 150,000 metric tons of copra are used to produce surfactants.

Industry data indicated that the SDAP's efforts to invalidate EO 259 through a temporary restraining order that could lead to a permanent injunction will further reduce the income of coconut. farmers by one-third. Yearly earnings of a coconut farmer-family amount to only about P10,000 when prices are favorable.

Pansacola, whose natural herbal products won international recognition and awards for her company, proposed an immediate government-led summit to formulate strategies to prevent the collapse of the coconut industry.

She said environmental and cultural protection should take precedence over international commitments that are believed to be preventing the government from performing its mandate.

She explained that global efforts by the competition to discredit coconut oil are a known fact adding that giant multinational companies want world governments to impose the use of slowly biodegradable surfactants made out of petroleum.

"While the coconut oil-based surfactants are rated worldwide as environment-friendly for being readily biodegradable, the pressure is too strong for our government to resist. But our national leaders should be reminded that even as the Philippines is a signatory to the WTO, we are allowed to protect our environment more to preserve our culture which is deeply rooted through the coconut industry," Pansacola stressed. 

*** Published in a local newspaper last April 14, 2002