Tree of Life Earns Big Bucks

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Millions of Filipinos look up to the coconut palm tree, not only because of its towering height, but also for its significant role in their lives.

Consider this: Around 25 million out of the 88.7 million Filipinos are directly or indirectly involved in the coconut industry — including 3.5 million farmers who cultivate one-fourth of the 12 million hectares worth of Philippine farmlands.


Moreover, the production output of the coconut industry contributes an annual average of 5.97% to the Gross Value Added and 1.14% to the GNP.

The country’s 324 million coconut palm trees grown in 68 of the 79 provinces also pull in US$760 million dollars, making it one of the top foreign exchange earners.

That’s why, along with rice, corn, and sugar, the coconut industry is considered one of the four major sectors of Philippine agriculture.

Multipurpose Resource

The coco-palm tree is called the tree of life because virtually every part of the tree can provide something one can use in daily life. The coconut meat, for instance, is used as a food ingredient; the dried leaves can be turned into a broom; the husk, into a floor polisher; and the oil can be used for cooking as well as several medicinal purposes.

Even if the coco palm were to yield no fruit, it would still remain useful — particularly the trunk, which can be processed into coconut lumber. Unproductive coconut palm trees are primarily used in building construction as trusses, doors, window frames, and jalousies.

This fibrous tree product is a viable alternative to traditional Philippine hardwoods since it is just as durable, but less expensive. Traditional Philippine hardwoods are turning scarce as forest reserves are undergoing different stages of reforestation.

All its qualities indeed make coconut lumber a much sought after product in the international
market.

Along with other coconut products, RP coco-lumber exports to China reached US$670,033 freight- on-board value in 2006, up from $147,454 in 2005. This trend is expected to continue as the Chinese economy continues to skyrocket.

Rough Sailing

The Philippine coconut industry has had to wrestle with a recent spate of calamities that have made it vulnerable to the possibility of being replaced by competitors.

Due to massive damages caused by the typhoons of 2006, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) announced early this year that it expects the coconut production rate to remain flat at 2.4 million metric tons, slightly higher than the government’s estimated 2.1-million-metric-ton production in 2006.

“It may take two years before the industry may see any recovery,” according to Secretary Arthur Yap of the RP Department of Agriculture (DA). But the industry remains confident that it can bounce back from this setback and, by fertilizing areas unaffected by typhoons, eventually achieve three million metric tons of produce by 2010.

The PCA also needs at least a billion pesos to finance an ongoing rehabilitation program until 2010.
The rehab program covers 800,000 hectares of farms containing low-yield trees.

Palm Pest Remedies

One of the biggest challenges facing the Philippine coconut industry is the invasion of Brontispa Longissima or the coconut palm beetle. The beetle is a well-known coconut pest that feeds off young palms and weakens older ones.

The PCA committed to contain, if not eradicate this pest, within the year. Authorities have taken on
three measures to neutralize the destructive pest, which have wreaked havoc on nearly 100,000 of the country’s more than 300 million coconut-bearing trees.

The first measure is biological control. PCA is producing one million of the insect species Black Earwig or Chelisoches morio (Fabricius) — an endemic biological predator of the Brontispa — to attack the pest. An additional one million predators will be released on the second month to surrounding trees to ensure complete control of the pest.

The second measure is mechanical control. This involves cutting off young, infested frond or palm leaves, where the pests feed, and then burning them. Healthy new fronds should grow back within a month.

The third measure is chemical control. This involves systemic injection of chemicals into the trunk.
This is expected to have immediate impact on the beetle in just a few days. Healthy fronds will emerge from the coconut in the month following chemical application.

The PCA has already released 350,000 pesos for immediate insecticide treatment of around 70,000 infected palms in 18 of the 79 coconut-producing provinces. Authorities will also coordinate with their Vietnamese counterparts in implementing long-term, complementary measures to further neutralize the pest in the region.

print ed: 11/07

 

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