Coconut: Lifeblood of PH agriculture (First of Two Parts)

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Sunday, February 2, 2014


THE Philippines is the world's second largest producer of coconut products - after Indonesia. But the Philippines is the top exporter of coconut products (about 64 percent of the worlds' copra and coconut oil comes from the Philippines). In 2011, it generated annual revenues of US$1.49 billion, making it the country's top agricultural product for export.

Some 3.562 million hectares of coconut trees are planted all over the country, dominating the landscape in 69 out of the total 80 provinces.

"(Coconut) provides vital economic support to the rural communities, with over 3.4 million farmers directly benefiting from the industry," reports the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (Pcaarrd).

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Copra or dried coconut meat is the main products of coconuts. It has high oil content, as much as 64 percent. Coconut oil, which is the most readily digested among all fats of general use in the entire world, furnishes about 9,500 calories of energy per kilo. Its chief competitors are soya bean oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Aside from copra, there are many other products that you can get from coconut. After all, in Sanskrit, coconut is called kalpavriksha, which means "the tree that provides all the necessities of life."

That's the good thing about coconut. But the bad thing is that not too many Filipinos have access on the technologies and processes of these products and by-products. "There is a dearth of information materials," said Benjamin Lao, a coconut farmer from Eman, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.

To learn more about coconut sap sugar production, Lao had to undergo training in various government agencies. He also read voraciously on the subject matter and even subscribed to different agricultural magazines.

His perseverance paid off; he is now recognized by the Department of Agriculture as one of the country's outstanding farmers.

The Pcaarrd, for its part, is very much aware of the miniscule materials on coconut technologies. This must be the reason why it came up with a "compendium of commercially-viable coconut technologies" (which is actually the title of the 180-page book).

"It is not enough that we plant the most number of trees or produce the highest number of nuts," wrote Dr. Patricio S. Faylon, the Pcaarrd executive director, in his foreword for the book. "It is getting the highest value and benefits from this crop that matters most. The best way to do this is to transform the nuts and other coconut parts into high-value products."

On top of the list is coconut sap sugar, a safe and healthy sweetener due to its low glycemic index (GI) of 35. It is rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and chlorine. As an "invert sugar," it can be a valuable sweetener in food and pharmaceutical preparations and can be used as substitute for honey and sweetener for infant foods.

"Its health benefits have been recognized by highly discriminating and health-conscious market," the book states. "Demand for the product is continuously increasing and is expected to further increase due to the number of health-conscious individuals within and outside the country."

"Coconut sap sugar is not only sweet but even more nutritious than cane sugar," points out Lao, whose product lines also include coconut sap honey, coconut syrup, and coconut sap drink. His coconut sap sugar is not only sold in various parts of the country but also in the United States, Japan, Australia, and Canada.

Another popular product from coconut is virgin coconut oil (VCO). The oil does not undergo refining, bleaching, or deodorizing and can be obtained with or without the use of heat. One person who uses VCO in his products is Alvin Louie Ang from Pantukan, Compostela Valley. He has developed beauty products with VCO as the main ingredient.

"I decided to broaden the use of coconuts, which are abundant in my province, by creating products which are considered a necessity," Ang said. He thought of beauty soap. "These days, it is really hard to find an organic soap of good quality that is not very expensive. With that, I was inspired to make some VCO-based beauty soaps and perfumes."

In the United States, VCO has increasingly becoming popular in natural food circles and with vegans. It was described in a New York Times article as having a "haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor" that also has a touch of sweetness that works well with baked goods, pastries, and sautes. (To be concluded)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 03, 2014.

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