You walk into a local store for your usual energy fix. There, alongside popular brands, you find bottles of freshly-harvested “buko juice” being sold as a health drink. But the bigger pleasant surprise is that farmers in your area actually produced it.
Officials of the Department of Agriculture said this possibility is not far-fetched as the agency recently teamed up with the provincial government of Camarines Sur and Central Bicol State University of Agriculture to pilot test the commercial viability of community-level coco water production using the technology developed by DA-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization.
The extensive study – to be carried out for a period of one year under the soon-to-commence Philippine Rural Development Project with a budget of P7.3 million – aims to come up with product and machine protocols that will serve as basis for the technology’s commercialization nationwide.
It also hopes to initiate supply chain linkages between coco water consolidators and possible small-scale processors.
“Indeed, we are on-track to creating a sustainable and stable source of livelihood and income for thousands of Filipino coconut farmers,” said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. “By finding an industrial application to a by-product used to be thrown away as waste, we create new rural-based enterprises and possibilities towards progress,” he added.
The DA chief signed last week (3 October 2014) a memorandum of agreement with Governor Miguel Luis Villafuerte and CBSUA President Georgina Bordado to carry out the initiative entitled, “Cocowater Processing Technology Pilot Testing and Business Incubation Project,” during the Asenso Partners Farmers Congress of the Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative at CamSur Watersports Complex Hall in Pili.
Other signatories were DA Regional Field Unit 5 Dir. Abelardo Bragas, PhilMech Dir. Rex Bingabing and DA-PRDP Director Shandy Hubilla.
As part of the agreement, DA-PhilMech will procure the components of the equipment and facilitate its assembly and installation at the DA’s regional office Bicol in Pili.
The newly-designed equipment allows hygienic extraction, storage and chilling of coco water, according to PhilMech. With a capacity of around two thousand mature coconuts per day, equivalent to more or less 600 liters of coco water daily, the set-up is compact and portable enough to be transported and installed anywhere in the country, according to PhilMech.
PhilMech also takes care of the training and technical aspect of the project.
The identification and mobilization of farmer groups — who will be taught by PhilMech how to operate the equipment and eventually manage the facility – is the responsibility of the provincial government. These farmers will also supply the raw materials for the project.
Meanwhile, DA RFU 5 will oversee the day-to-day operations of the facility. It will closely coordinate with CBSUA whose main task is to spearhead the feasibility study and come up with a Good Manufacturing Practices manual.
The state university will also design and implement the marketing strategies and promotional activities during the test run.
PRDP will fund the project and serve as the over-all project coordinator. PRDP is World Bank-assisted livelihood and infrastructure initiative, which will be officially launched via a ceremony in Cebu City next month.
Most promising new export
Demand for coco water surged recently due to its growing popularity as a health drink, both here and abroad. In fact, returning from a trip to the US last year, President Aquino hailed coconut water as one of the country’s most promising new export opportunities.
Key is market-creation. According to Hubilla, who heads DA-PRDP’s Luzon B cluster, coco water can be marketed as an alternative to popular sports drinks, only that it is healthier because it contains, in their natural form, essential electrolytes and minerals needed for rehydration.
And supply should not be a problem. The country can produce huge volumes of coconut water estimated at 2.4 billion liters annually, according to a briefer prepared by DA-PRDP. It was based on a conservative assumption that only half of the national coconut production of 15 billion nuts will be utilized to produce the export product
Citing data from the Philippine Coconut Authority, DA-PRDP said the Philippines exported nearly 4.49 million liters of fresh coconut water in the first quarter of 2012, up 300 percent from 1.12 million liters a year earlier, filling a surge in demand for health drink in major markets with US as the country’s top destination. (Mac Garcia, DA OSEC)