"..a bardy view!"

The Seven Year Itch………..

CoconuttreesThere are 320 million coconut trees in the Philippines and they occupy 28% of the agricultural land area.

Yet 14% of them are considered dead or dying and there has not been any substantial replacement. That's nearly 45 million.

A 60 year old tree won't bear many nuts and should be cut down for lumber. A tree (or palm – for the pedantic) is at its best between seven and twenty five years when they can produce 40 to 60 nuts a year.

Sustainable agri-management would ensure replacements but farmers are reluctant due to a combination of poor returns, El Nino weather patterns, and many are poor tenants who don't own their land and are paid peanuts by the land owners who even expect rent to boot!

Indeed peanut farmers are probably fairing much better. The Philippines is a world leader in copra and a major producer of coconut oil, desiccated coconut, shell charcoal and carbon and coco chemicals. It they want to stay at the top of the tree then action is required now because it takes seven years to bear the first fruit.

The Philippines Coconut Authority has offered financial incentives to farmers ranging from 7 pesos (10p) per sown seed, plus another 7 pesos if the seed grows to at least two feet tall within five months. If he can get it to reach a further foot in the rainy season, then he'll get another 16 pesos. That's 30 pesos altogether. However there are many stories of a reluctance or inability on behalf of the authorities to pay out. It seems like complicated bureaucracy, and one wonders if the government can't make it simpler.

DSCF1828The humble Filipino small-holder (and let's not forget that this fuedal system of tenanted crop farmng existed for hundreds of years throughout Britain) is likely to have a large family and if he's lucky will earn less than £500 a year. I'll repeat that: £500 a year, or P30,000! The government's P30 per seed doesn't sound much now!

If the farmer had the space to plant 100 trees then he'll surely get his basic money, plus whatever the yield may be, but remember he (like the tree) will not bear fruit for seven years. Besides, there is no guarantee that his saplings will grow much more than a metre. If you want to give a leg up to people you give a hand-up, not hand-down. You need to invest in them and cushion them against outside uncontrollable forces in the interim.

Is it any wonder then that small farmers and plot holders are abandoning their land and seeking their fortunes in the big cities, thereby further overpopulating them and creating dire slum housing and more poverty. Is it any wonder that land owners are selling up to private developers keen to make the next luxury apartment blocks with swimming pools, saunas, gated communities and comforts to the new rich Filipinos who have made their money grafting overseas and now want to display it?

And then of course there is the growing demand for coconut water which is attracting the multi-nationals like Pepsi and Coca Cola, who are buying up plantations to exploit the trend of the "new age isotonic miracle drink". These plantations will only produce young coconut for the water, and will never be able to produce the copra and other aspects of the coconut which the world demands. A farmer will easily forget his ethics when the greenback knocks on his door.

But perhaps the tide is turning. It's happening now. The fewer mature coconuts there are will increase demand, and with demand prices rise. Those farmers who have stuck it out, seen the long view and held tight to their ethos are now replanting – thousands of seedlings – in every space available.

They are removing their old trees, selling the lumber, and planting new ones.

It must be the Seven Year Itch!


December 21, 2011 - Posted by | Coconut Trees, Conservation, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, General, Politics, Science, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. A riveting read as usual and I agree with all your sentiments. What you cut down must be replaced and your supply and demand scenario, makes a lot of sense.


    Comment by Spook Moor | December 22, 2011 | Reply

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