By Pablito P. Pamplona and April Grace D. Pamplona

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Philippines has one of the lowest farm productivities in the ASEAN at US$350, as compared to US$1,050 for Thailand, and US$1,600 for Malaysia.

Farm productivity is a measure of income/ha per year and is a determinant of the level of poverty and prosperity. Lower farm productivity brings higher incidence of poverty.

Among the croplands in the country which give very low farm productivity are the cocolands. Almost 1/3 of the Philippine cultivated lands is grown to coconut trees now estimated at 3.56 million hectares. Approximately, 600,000 ha of these cocolands are grown to unproductive tall and senile coconut trees protected by a poverty insensitive law which prohibits their cuttings. The law is intended to preserve a national heritage – coconut. This law is now a disgrace to the country as these tall unproductive coco trees become living monuments showing to the world the backwardness of this segment of Philippine agriculture.

Agriculture is a tool to produce food – abundant food to transform farmers from poverty to prosperity. Yet, the continued retention of these tall unproductive coconut trees of decreasing farm productivity is creating increasing poverty. To preserve a heritage is correct, but the process is not correct, as it ends in increasing poverty. The problem of low coconut productivity is now compounded by the low price of vegetable oil in the world market pulling down the price of copra at a farmgate price of less than P25/kg. This gives coconut farmers a net income of less than P20,000/ha per year.

The government should make these cocolands productive following the strategies used in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam in plantation crops like coconut. For example, the Malaysian government provides farmers financial cash incentives to cut oil palm trees of decreasing productivity at 25 years and above. In addition, the government provides the farmers with oil palm seedlings for free of early maturing and high yielding oil palm hybrid for replanting to ensure increasing land productivity. Moreover, the government provides farmers with resources to make oil palms grow fast and mature early in three years. Poverty in rural Malaysia is less than 3%, while in the Philippines, it is almost 30%. Malaysia does not provide the poor with expensive “pantawid cash money”. Instead, it helps farmers in increasing farm productivity to overcome poverty.

Using the Malaysian strategy, the Philippine government should provide cash incentive to farmers to cut these tall unproductive coconut trees. It should also provide the farmers with free seedlings of high yielding coconut hybrids for replanting, and added cash for farm maintenance during the immature stage of the crop. This should require the government to mass produce hybrid coconut seedlings for mass distribution and increase in yield.

In India, the increasing planting of coconut hybrids in recent years drastically increased the national average yield of coconut to 10,117 nuts/ha per year compared to the Philippines’ average of 4,101 nuts/ha per year. Now is the best time for the government to help farmers cut and replant these tall trees when the price of the coconut oil is very low. Years will come when the price of vegetable oil will go up and the replanted coconut hybrids will become very productive to bring prosperity to the coconut farmers. The younger and shorter coconut trees should be integrated with other crops and livestock to increase farm productivity.

Livestock integration increases cocoland productivity 

Among the many ways to increase cocoland productivity is the integration of livestock, like dairy cows, and goats for milk production. On this aspect, Malaysia developed a good model in oil palm which is also applicable to coconut. According to the National Dairy Authority (NDA), Philippines produces roughly 5% of its domestic milk requirement, hence the need to produce more. The cocoland productivity can be further increased if the integration is carried out using high yielding coconut hybrids like “Matag” – the high yielding variety producing young, sweet, and aromatic nuts. Such integration produces market-driven and high value products like milk for domestic market, coco sugar, and young, sweet, and aromatic nuts for the international market. The integration of livestock in cocolands becomes highly compatible by using emerging technologies which include the following:

1. Replacing cocograsslands and brushlands with easy to establish, very productive, palatable, and highly nutritious forage crops. These forage crops include Packhong napier grass, trichantera, mombasa, mulato, indigofera, rensonii, etc.

2. Using the cut and carry technique of feeding livestock raised in confinement to increase the forage carrying capacity of cocolands.

3. Using new breeds of cattle and goats which are suitable for coco livestock integration. Take the case of the two projects: the dairy cattle of Lao Integrated Farms, Inc., and the dairy goat of Triple P Farms and Nursery, as examples.

The Lao’s dairy cattle project

It is one of the newest projects of Benjamin Lao, the president and CEO of the popular Lao Integrated Farms, Inc. The farm, situated at the foot of Mt. Apo in Barangay Eman, Bansalan, Davao del Sur, is a favorite agro-tourism destination in Southern Mindanao. Lao produces organic coco sugar and other coconut high-value products, as well as durian, lanzones, and mangosteen fruits, native chicken, dairy goats, high-value vegetables, etc. His farm is an accredited tourism destination by the Department of Tourism. Its organic products are recommended by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

In November 2017, Lao availed of five pregnant dairy cows from the National Dairy Authority (NDA) through its cattle dispersal program. This was after he complied with the agency’s requirements, namely: (1) dairy barn of 12 x15 m and, (2) productive forage pasture of over 2 ha, mostly utilizing vacant areas between the rows of coconut trees for coco sugar production. These forage crops consist of Packhong napier, indigofera, etc.

An open-side barn of 12×15 m accommodating five dairy cows, with the author and Rex Millano, farm manager.

Since he was then engaged in dairy goat farming, he just expanded his forage area to include the needs of the dairy cattle. Both dairy goats and dairy cattle are fed with the same kind of forage pasture plants. Only the quantity per animal differs – the cows need more.

Lao easily learned the science and art of dairy cattle farming, thanks to the industry and effective technical assistance of the NDA technicians who regularly visited the project. Two laborers take care of the farm operations. Their works include feeding the cattle with unlimited supply of cut forage plants during the day, supplemented with the feeding of formulated concentrates twice a day, plus adequate vitamins and minerals as supplements. Their other activities include milking twice a day, milk pasteurization, and weekly collection of manure for vermicomposting.

Lao found his dairy cow project very exciting and profitable. The income from the project comes from three sources: milk produced at 70 to 80 liters/day, the cow offspring, expected at one calf for each mother cow every 14 months, and tons of cow dung gathered weekly and converted to high-value organic fertilizer through vermicomposting.

This project is a success story of both Lao and the NDA. It showcases that dairy cattle farming, which is generally perceived as the domain of the cattle raisers with big lands, can be carried out profitably by small landholders in cocolands with government intervention and support.

The TPFN dairy goat project 

The project was started in June 2017 with the objective of developing a profitable integration of dairy goat farming in cocolands. The first part of the development involved the massive evaluation of forage plants for suitability in cocolands. The coconut varieties used are largely the dwarf early maturing coconuts for seednut production of sweet and aromatic young nuts and “Matag” for coco sugar production. The project has now almost 100 head of dairy goats raised in two barns which can accommodate 250 goats to full capacity. It has a forage pasture of over 2 ha largely between the rows of coconut trees.

The five dairy cows produce 70 to 80 liters of milk daily; four calves of 6-8 months old; and tons of manure which are converted to high-value organic fertilizer.

The second part involves the evaluation of four types of goats – upgraded (50 to 75%) Anglo Nubian, pure Anglo Nubian, Saanens, and their crosses. NDA technicians visit regularly the project to provide technical assistance. To date, we share the following information:

1. Many forage crops can tolerate the partial shading of immature and mature coconut trees. Moreover, the growth and yield of coconut trees are not affected by the intercropping of forage crops. The key is not to allow the forage crop to shade the coconut leaves and that clean weeding of at least 1.5 meters around the base of the coconut trees is carried out monthly. Likewise, both the coconut and forage crops are provided with separate and sufficient amount of fertilizer. Irrigation increases the productivity of both the coconut and forage plants.

2. Milk productivity depends largely on the type of goat, the feeds and feeding being done. The upgrade of 50 to 75% Nubian produces 0.50 to 0.70 liter of milk/day. The pure Anglo Nubian produces from 1.5 to 2 liters/day. Improved Nubian stocks and feeds and feeding bring milk production to 2.5 liters/goat per day.

3. Our current modeling shows that a coconut farmer raising 15 to 20 milking pure Anglo Nubian goats supported by forage plants grown in 1.5 to 2 ha of coconut trees can easily produce an added farm income of more than P6,000/month or P72,000/year. Income comes from the sale of milk breeding stocks, culled animals for slaughter, and processed organic fertilizer from goat manure.

The TPFN applied research on sweet and aromatic coconut

For the last ten years, TPFN carried out farm research on the sweet (Nam Wan) and sweet aromatic (Nam Hom) varieties of coconut in both the provinces of Cotabato and Agusan del Sur. At the same time, we annually visit the production sites in other ASEAN countries to document the emerging innovative practices. We are sharing the following research findings:

1. Both varieties are adopted under Philippine condition. Our coconut trees are producing nuts with very sweet or sweet and aromatic coconut water similar to those in other ASEAN countries. The sweetness and aroma deteriorate by cross-pollination between the two varieties and by other coconut varieties when grown side by side or in close proximity. Seednut production should be carried out in isolated farms away from the local varieties. Likewise, the sweet and the sweet aromatic varieties should be planted separately.

2. Among the many peculiar features of these varieties is their early maturity of less than 3 years. The plants have semi-erect and more number of leaves compared to the local varieties and hybrids.

3. The two varieties produce high coco sugar yield almost at par with the hybrid “Matag”. The other difference is, under adequate fertilization program, the sweet, and the sweet aromatic varieties fruit earlier, and are more productive than the “Matag”.

4. The main products are the refreshing sweet and aromatic coco water and the nutritious young nuts or cotyledon. Neighboring countries have developed other high-value products. A hectare of any of these special varieties planted at 200 plants/ha produces more than 25,000 nuts/ha per year under adequate fertilization and weeding. A trial market of a big coconut farm in Lanao del Sur selling sweet aromatic young nuts at P50/nut are sold like the proverbial ‘hot cakes’. In Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, where these varieties are grown, the domestic price is equivalent to P80 to P100/young nut. The price is much higher in Singapore, Australia, Europe, and USA.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2019 issue.