DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 April) — The fate of the coco coir industry depends largely on the move of the district and regional offices of the Department of Public Works and Highways to submit purchase orders.
Ariel Aguirre, president of the Philippine Coconut Coir Exporters Association Inc. (PhilCoir) said coco coir-producing communities have been encouraged by the pronouncements of DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson directing all his field offices to use coconut coir-made materials in their projects.
Aguirre said the coir industry has presented a new product to the DPWH to use in their road constructions, a mat of coir materials. This would be used as a first layer mat to hold the gravel and sand layers to the compacted road before cement is poured.
“It holds stronger than soil aggregates to make roads resist more pressure and friction,” he said, adding the offer was made also after Singson issued the directive.
The coir materials are being used to protect the slopes from sliding down and threatening roadsides but Aguirre said the DPWH has not been actively using the coconut coir.
He debunked suspicions that the DPWH may have been discouraged by the price of the coir. He said the DPWH was importing geotextile materials for its various infrastructure projects. “These are much more expensive than our coir, maybe more than five times.”
Ma. Belinda Ambi, provincial director of the Department of Trade and Industry in coconut-producing Davao Oriental, said that processors of the fiber sell them at P9 a kilo.
“We are really waiting for the orders, but Singson’s directive could be very providential because all the other similar directives since two years ago have not been complied with,” he said. He said the assurance should also come from other agencies of government, “not only the DPWH”.
The industry virtually fizzled when orders were not coming as expected although Aguirre said there were infrequent orders from the DPWH.
The industry was supposed to be labor-intensive, involving communities in a plant assembly-like set-up, with harvesters, those who remove the husks that are the main materials, those who shred the fiber and those who form the coir.
Ten pieces of husks could produce a kilo of coir, said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who attended the National Coconut Summit Thursday last week at the Marco Polo Hotel here. The coconut coir emerged as an important by-product to offset the effect of devastating climate changes, especially as an erosion control material.
The regional office of the DTI here said that the coir may offer a huge economic potential for the Japan market after its exposure to the quake-triggered tsunami floods last month.
But Ambi said that much infusion of technology was needed to increase productivity. Of the potential to produce 150,000 metric tons of coir, the country produced annually only an average of 30,000 MT. “Some plants either need to be rehabilitated, others closed due to lack of market,” she said.
The DA said farmers usually use the husks as firewood materials.
Although Alcala said that the DA has prevented massive conversion of rice and coconut farms to banana, he admitted that it was usually the farmers who decide ultimately on what to do with their farms.
Aguirre also disclosed that no government intervention happened after the government conducted a nationwide evaluation in 2008 of major crop farms, like rice, corn, coconut, oil palm and rubber, that were affected by the global recession. In coconut, for instance, the most common neglect was on senile trees, lack of infrastructure and technology.
“They have done nothing to improve coconut,” he said.
The summit, meanwhile, urged local governments “to include coco coir/peat processing in their investment priority areas and to provide tax incentives to farmers and processors”.
It also requested President Benigno Aquino III to designate one regulatory agency for coco coir subsector.
The summit participants also asked the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF), to finance the “establishment, operation and maintenance of common service and marketing distribution facilities.” (MindaNews)