By Sandy and Doc Rey

The closest I got to knowing my coconuts was knowing about buko juice, buko pie, the virgin coconut oil or VCO we use on hair, and yes, the culinary oil we use for cooking.

After attending the 2nd Coconut Farmers Conference, I got interested in the value chain, and it was timely that I was invited to an internal workshop on the topic.

Much has been said and taught about the different processing technologies for coconut products. While in the past, the concept of processing was associated with large companies, due to advancements in technology, small processing enterprises can be set up.

The industry was dominated by large manufacturers who compromised a small percentage of the total. The majority remained as suppliers of raw materials, and their produce was bought at farmgate prices.

What are the possible problems encountered by our coconut farmers?

1) Lack of knowledge on appropriate and modern processing technologies

2) Efficient machinery

3) Need for research and development

4) Information dissemination and linkages in the network

5) How to use waste products

How organic or natural can you get when growing coconuts? It is important to note that the viability of a coconut processing enterprise is dependent on its location:

1) Are you near your target market?

2) How will you transport your materials, and how much time does it take to transport them?

3) Is there competition for the raw materials you use?

4) Does your location allow you to abide by agricultural standards and manufacturing practice standards?

VCO is the leading export from coconuts. The demand in both the local and international markets is high. The export demand is not met, and this is where the need for village-based processing centers come in.

The Philippine Coconut Authority is setting up “Coconut Hubs” to answer these needs of both farmers and consumers. The term “coconut processing centers” might seem intimidating but simple and modernized machinery is used there. Looking at the bigger picture, the Coconut Hubs help address the needs of small enterprises.

During the internal workshop, to which a cross-section of attendees from the processing industry was invited, I was excited to hear about products that can be made from the perceived wastage of the copra industry. These are:

1) Coco sugar, which we try to use, has that wonderful caramel-like taste. It’s great to use in your coffee, chocolates, and wherever you like its flavor.

2) VCO has long been there, and is big in the export market.

3) Coconut flour

4) Coconut sap drink (sweet tuba)

5) Coconut skimmed milk

6) Coconut milk-based ice cream

7) Coconut water drink

8) Coconut based herbal soap

9) Coir fiber

10) Bio-organic fertilizer

11) High quality charcoal

Coconut cheese is something I’d like to see being produced and sold in the market. It’s no dairy, all-coconut cheese. After the presentation, the entrepreneurs in the group were one in identifying it as a good prospect.

The vision of the hubs is very good. Just like with any business, its success depends on the total picture, the total value chain. The importance of empowering farmers to process products from coconuts is important; that way, they are not solely dependent on copra’s farmgate prices.

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This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2014 issue.