In the seminar titled, “Rural Communities and Coconut Sap Sugar Production as a Farming Enterprise,” presented in the technology forum of the 7th Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition last 11-14 August 2011 held at SM Megatrade Hall 3, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City, representatives from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) headed by Mrs. Erlene C. Manohar shared with the audience the simple but effective process of producing coconut sap sugar that creates for a beneficial and highly lucrative rural-based enterprise. The forum serves as a venue for the exposition of current and ground breaking projects that have become vehicles of change for our local farmers.
Mrs. Manohar explained the three basic components involved in coconut-based enterprises as production, which involves tapping of the coconut sap and processing; product development, that involves the standardization and regulatory processes; and marketing, which includes both the packaging and promotion. To be able to perform these steps, key players in the different stages of production (e.g., farm owners, tappers, processors, manufacturers), development (e.g., researchers from PCA and the DA-BAR staff, the private sector, regulatory agencies such as the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards and the Bureau of Food and Drugs]), and marketing (e.g., traders, consolidators, exporters, and government agencies such as PCA and the Department of Trade and Industry) are required. These basic components respond to the livelihood needs of the community, helping in the generation of income for families who become part of the team of workers that produce coco sap and other high-value coconut products.
Rural communities that engage in coco sap sugar enterprise share in the responsibilities of creating their product. The process begins with the coconut growers who are in charge of the raw materials. Toddy collectors then collect these raw materials and deliver them to the coco sugar processors who supply the finished product.
Coco sugar processors, according to Mrs. Manohar, are preferably women, “Nothing against the males… Mas may pasensya ang mga babae at metikulosa” (“women are more patient and are meticulous”).
With the finished product, the local consolidator comes into the picture for product development, who then turns to the local trader for local market matching or the exporter trader for export marketing. For some of the products, shipping lines (outside the rural community) are involved in the movement of the products towards their specified markets. Government agencies monitor the standards and regulatory processes of the finished coco sap products. After regulation, agents who make marketing arrangements take the products, and present them to the last, but definitely not the least, key players which are the wholesale and retail buyers.
Since the inception of the PCA project in 2007 under the National Technological Commercialization Program titled, “Commercialization of High Value Coconut Products”, development of coco sap enterprises have been flourishing. Not only have the products, particularly coconut sap sugar, developed to become competitive in the export market, but also the process has been enhanced to enable for almost zero waste coco sap after extraction. The popularity of coco sap sugar has also increased as numerous producers from North and South Cotabato, Zamboanga City, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur have begun their own enterprises with some even producing to meet export demands.
Ms. Manohar emphasized in her lecture that most, if not all, of the recruited members of their workforce in North Cotabato are composed of simple housewives, once knowing only homemaking skills. After training, these women became equipped with skills and knowledge that have enabled them to venture out into business on their own and make their own coco sap sugar thus generating additional income for their families.
According to Ms. Manohar, because it is a simple process that can be learned in three days, as it only involves a simple heat evaporation process and toddy tappers could collect coconut sap multiple times in a day, this venture is a sure income-generating enterprise. Although it has been said that “coconut farmers are among the poorest of the poor,” with this innovation, the coconut farmers’ living condition should begin to change for the better. As most of the coconut businesses in the country are owned by big players in the industry, particularly those engaged in the copra business, the small coconut farmers is left with no choice but to work for these titans. With this innovation, small capital holders such as these farmers are now able to engage in a profitable business and compete in a bigger market, thus ensuring that they have better chances to survive and prosper.
“Dahil sa funding na binigay sa atin ng BAR, maganda po ang tinakbo ng project na ito,” (“Because of BAR’s funding, this project was a success”) shared Mrs. Manohar. Both the men and women shared the responsibilities in creating and maintaining, and in succeeding in rural-based enterprises. Government agencies and local government units have collaborated to provide a productive environment where ideas for sustainable livelihood projects can be tested. More families are able to rise above poverty, rural communities become key players in national and international markets, and our basic agricultural resources are further developed to reach their fullest production potentials. (Zuellen B. Reynoso/DA-BAR)