Thursday, December 4, 2014

Coconut fresco versus copra

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

For too long, the wonder tree that is the coconut tree has been seen mainly as the source of copra from which crude coconut oil (CNO) is extracted, the source of a commodity that has not significantly improved the lives of coconut farmers. CNO is used for soaps, detergents, chemicals, etc.

The coconut tree has been seen secondarily as the source of lumber, fiber, and alcoholic and health drinks. Coconut milk, which is used in Filipino cooking, and other fresh components have not really been the coconut industry’s main income generator.

The recent Mindanao-to-Manila march of coconut farmers meant to draw attention to their decades-old clamor that the anomalous coconut levy fund be finally used for their benefit was not for naught. But how far will their march take them?

President Aquino found time to meet with the farmers in MalacaƱang last week and promised to support the bill that would make operative the handling of the P71 billion (plus accrued interest) coconut levy fund collected more than 30 years ago by the Marcos regime. It was almost given up for lost, until the Supreme Court declared that the fund should belong to the coconut farmers, that this was not for the dictator’s cronies.

It is common knowledge that this country’s natural bounties have not always been harnessed to benefit the many. To say it bluntly, the Philippines’ coconut industry has miserably failed to be a flagship industry when it could have been. In decades past it had been squeezed dry by rapacious beings that left the poor coconut farmers even poorer.

Independent of all these recent hopeful developments in the coco levy fund are Filipinos who are personally concerned about the coconut industry, who are working to turn the once-considered sunset industry into a sunrise industry. With or without the help of the government, they have been thinking out of the box to push the wonders of the Philippine coconut into the world arena.

Advocates of fresco (or fresh) processing, among them the Philippine Coconut Society, argue that the coconut farmer will earn more by NOT producing copra, but by selling whole nuts for fresh processing. This has been studied, computed and tried, but still there are few daring producers and little government support.

They call the dream “The New Coconut Economy.” Part of this dream that they are working on is the Farmers’ Coconut Mills or Farcoms.

Farcom advocates say the 3.5 million coconut farmers must now say goodbye to exploitative practices in the coconut sector. They must say goodbye to the old sunset coconut industry that depended on copra. For decades the coconut farmers thought only copra was the main and only way to earn from coconuts. Low copra prices kept farmers in a state of penury.

Copra making is an old, dirty technology. It is a remnant of a feudal system where the farmer is paid so little. The computation: Five nuts worth P50 are processed into one kilo of copra priced P5 to P25.

Compare that with the “sunrise” or “new coconut industry.” Here’s how it looks: “Fresca is granulated coconut meat cleanly dried within a few hours after the fresh nuts are opened.

Fresca is white, clean and delicious food. It is produced right in a farm site where copra used to be made but now turned into a sanitary, enclosed production area. This is called village-level processing facility.

“A final product itself, fresca is processed further to produce fresh coconut oil (FCO) and coconut milk flour (CMF) by using an expeller and pulverizer. FCO is popularly called virgin coconut oil (VCO).”

And what is “fresco” or fresh coconut processing? It is the opposite of the old copra making. Its advocates define it as “an integrated system that produces all values of the coconut fruit, the opposite of the old industry that produces only copra, copra oil and copra cake. Fresca is only one of the many products of fresco processing.”

The main products of fresco are 1) fresh coconut meat—chunks, grated, grains, 2) fresca, 3) fresh coconut oil, 4) fresh coconut milk, whole or skimmed, 5) coconut water beverage, cider vinegar and concentrate, 6) coconut flour.

Fresco processing can either be in the village level or centralized. If done in the village level, other products can be generated, among them, liquid smoke, coconut shell charcoal and coconut ash.

Let me digress a little. I have tried the CocoNOT soy made from mature coconut water which used to be thrown away. The thick “soy” is the left-over product of simple distillation and tastes like oyster sauce. And the distilled water? It is good, clean drinking water.

Farcom or farmers’ coconut mill is the village-level processing facility (freskahan) that will replace the koprasan. It is where fresco is done to produce fresh coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut water concentrate, coconut flour and other products such as liquid smoke charcoal, ash, etc.

Farcom advocates say that the 300,000 koprasans all over the Philippines currently processes 12 billion nuts out of the 15 billion produced yearly by 3.5 coconut farmers. Compare that to only 8,000 Farcoms that are needed to process the same number of nuts.

Here is the economics of Farcom: If a Farcom processes 5,000 nuts a day, it can generate a P10-million income per year. If there are 200 participants in a Farcom, each farmer-member can receive a P50,000 yearly dividend. The Farcom will buy from its members 5,000 nuts at P10 per nut. This means P50,000 a day for their fresh nuts.

The Philippine Coconut Society (Kalipunang Tagapagtaguyod ng Paniniyog sa Pilipinas) has a briefing paper titled “Fresco Processing versus Copra Processing.” It is an eye-opener.#