By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
Having spent less than two months in the office, new Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Administrator and former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. has received a tall order from Agriculture Secretary William Dar to immediately execute interventions in the coconut sector, which has been struggling from low prices and productivity over the past years.
It was just in January since Madrigal secured PCA’s top post, just four months since his retirement as AFP Chief.
To be specific, Dar said that Madrigal should be able to address issues and concerns within the industry, particularly the low productivity in coconut farms.
Last year, the country exported less coconut products, according to United Coconut Association of the Philippines, Inc. (UCAP).
UCAP’s preliminary data showed that Philippines’ export of coconut products totaled to 127,049 metric tons in copra terms as of December last year, dropping 26.0 percent from the 171,779 MT recorded in the same period last year.
Dar said that Madrigal must be able to lead the expansion of coconut production areas and replacement of senile and unproductive and damaged coconut trees with high-yielding varieties.
This, according to him, could be done through the Accelerated Coconut Planting and Replanting through Coconut Hybridization Project; the enhancement of farmers’ access to quality planting materials through the Seed Farm Development Project; and the formation of cooperative business units or enterprises to enable a higher level of coconut processing plants.
Over the past year, PCA has underwent more than two management transitions, which started at a time when it was revealed that the agency was chosen to lead the disbursement and utilization of the controversial P100-billion coco levy fund once it is released.
In February last year, former PCA Administrator Romulo de la Rosa and the rest of the PCA Board submitted their courtesy resignation at the Office of the President to pave way for the implementation of Coco Levy Act, which called for a reconstitution at their agency.
During that time, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered outgoing PAF chief Lieutenant General Galileo Kintanar Jr. to take over the agency.
For some reasons, Kintanar’s appointment didn’t push through and five months later, Duterte appointed lawyer Gonzalo Duque as the new administrator of PCA.
Duque was still Social Security Commission (SSC) Commissioner at that time. He is the brother of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Meanwhile, to ensure high quality of coconut products from the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture (DA), PCA, together with concerned agencies such as the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards, and the Food and Drugs Administration, recently developed the National Product Standards for virgin coconut oil, copra, desiccated coconut, raw nata de coco, coconut sap sugar, coconut flour, fresh tender buko and chilled young coconut water.
The Codes of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for Coconut was also developed for coconut sap sugar and chilled young coconut water, as well as a national standard guide for non-food products including coco coir and coco peat.
Another measure that was approved is the increase in the percentage of coco methyl esther blend (CME) in biodiesel, to directly address the falling prices of copra, and result in billions of pesos in earnings and investments.
Meantime, DA, among other government agencies, recently signed a deal with UCPB-CIIF Finance and Development Corp., the social development arm of United Coconut Planters Bank Group and Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) Group, for the establishment of more than 60 coconut centers in the country.
The center will serve as one-stop shop for farmers and traders as well as a central location where small growers can get direct access to assistance from the government and its partner agencies will be constructed across different areas in the Philippines.
The inter-agency deal was also forged by PCA, United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), Coconut Industry Investment Fund – Oil Mills Group (CIFF OMG), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), among others.