Wednesday, July 17, 2019

‘Negrense coconut farmers need more gov’t support’

AN AWARDING-WINNING coconut farmer-producer in Negros Occidental stressed the need for more government support to farmers to expand the country’s coconut sugar industry.

Antonio Jesus Orbida, executive director of PeacePond Farmers Association based in Binalbagan town, said coco sugar production in Negros is still minimal due to several factors.

Orbida, a member of the Associated Coconut Farmers of Negros Occidental and a regional Gawad Saka awardee as outstanding coconut farmer, said there are only few groups who know how to produce the product, Orbida said.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) should teach these groups, he said, adding that “the problem is there are still no organized coconut associations on the ground.”

Deputy speaker Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA partylist had earlier said there is a need to craft measures that will promote the proliferation of coconut sugar industry and improve its export performance.

Garin said aside from its high nutritional value, coco sugar has rising export demand and is exempted from additional excise tax on sweetened products.

Under the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) law, an excise tax of P6 per liter of volume capacity for sweetened beverages using purely caloric sweeteners and purely non-caloric sweeteners, or a mix of both, is imposed.

A provision in the measure excludes sweetened beverages using purely coconut sap sugar and purely steviol glycosides (stevia).

Orbida said they laud the push for tax exemption on coco sugar.
However, other measures should also be considered.

Orbida said adult coconut trees are too high, and since the “pananggiti” is a dying skill already, the tendency is for farmers to just wait for the coconuts to fall on the ground.

“If the government has foresight, we should be planting new coconut varieties. Let us plant dwarf coconut trees which are not hard to reach,” he said.

Orbida said dwarf coconuts are harvestable in four to five years’ time and can grow from six to 12 feet so even children and women can harvest.

These coconut varieties for coco sugar production are already available in research stations of PCA in Bohol and Zamboanga, he said.

However, farmers in Negros have to shoulder the shipping cost of these seedlings from those areas.

“How can you encourage the farmers to plant coconut trees and focus on coconut sugar production if there are no new varieties,” Orbida said.

In terms of maximizing export opportunities, local coconut farmers also have concerns on “very strict regulations” of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Orbida said it is logical that for farmers groups to pass these regulations, they have to be guided first on what to do.

He said either the local government units, Department of Agriculture, or the PCA should subsidize small farmers groups.

If they can hardly avail of capitalization how much more the payment for FDA permits and organic certifications which cost at least P80,000 per product, Orbida said.

“If the government really wants the coconut industry to succeed here in Negros, they should start planting new coconut varieties, strengthen the small organizations on ground, supply them with the proper tools and equipment, and give them subsidy on government issued certificates and permits," he added. (with reports from PNA)
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