THE Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol led the inauguration of the P1.7-billion new integrated coconut manufacturing and processing plant of Franklin Baker Company of the Philippines in Darong, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur on Thursday, January 19.

The plant, which is the third and newest plant of the firm along with San Pablo in Laguna and Coronon, Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur plants, is touted as one of the world's biggest coconut facilities.

“The Department of Agriculture will be your partner in coconut industry, as well as rice and corn, among other industries. We assure you that all the agency's money will be spent for programs and projects that will contribute to the achievement of the goals and visions of our department,” Piñol said before a jam-packed inauguration event attended by company's industry partners and foreign investors.

New Coconut Processing Plant

The plant occupying a 15-hectare economic zone of Darong Agricultural Development Corp. has a present capacity of 40 million pounds (in volume) per year.

Jerome Lorenzo, Franklin Baker's president and chief executive officer said in a speech that the new plant started its construction last 2015. It was commercially operational early last year but is targeted to be completed and fully-operational by 2021.

“Once the full capacity of the plant will be reached, it can process a million or two nuts daily that will give labor opportunities for some 4,000 workers,” Lorenzo said.

At present, with only two lines in operations, the plant is processing some 400,000 nuts per day. It is producing desiccated coconut products and virgin coconut oil.

By the end of this year, tetra-packed coconut water, milk and flour will be produced from the plant and one more line is set to be launched. The entire plant can house six lines.

Franklin Baker vice chairman Peter Garrucho, for his part, said that they are expanding their coconut processing plant as there is a surge in demand of coconut products globally.

“Coconut industry is very exciting these days because the demand is very high and consumers' taste is changing as more and more individuals are health conscious,” Garrucho said.

To meet the plant's requirement, the firm, is tapping coconut producers apart from those in Davao Region.

Cesar Galvez, vice president for operations of the company, in an earlier interview said they sourced coconuts as far as Leyte.

Galvez added they get raw materials from producers with organic and fair trade certification.

For 2015, the firm recorded over US$160 million in export value. Galvez added some 55 percent of their total production are exported to the United States of America, the rest are in Japan, Korea and other Asia-Pacific countries, Europe and New Zealand, among others.

In 2014, the company acquired the property of CJ Toyota Tsusho Philippines Inc.

Piñol's vow

The agriculture secretary vowed on Thursday that for the next five years, Department of Agriculture will plant 600,000 hectares of new coconut farms.

“Our coconut trees are old, senile and infected (with Coco-lisap), coconut replanting must start now because if not we may not be recognized as the second largest coconut producer in the world anymore,” Piñol stressed.

He added to encourage more farmers to engage in coconut, other farming activities must be introduced like intercropping cacao, coffee, and abaca.

He also mentioned that teaching farmers what good genetics in agriculture is important.

“These goals may seem ambitious but with strong will, I believe we can,” Piñol said.