Monday, January 14, 2013

Hard Times

In many areas all over the Philippines and particularly so in the Lianga area, it used to be that the coconut tree was the poor farmer's reliable cash cow.  With the minimum of maintenance and care, even a small coconut farm of a hectare or so harvested every two or three months can produce enough copra which if sold could provide for, at the very least, the basic needs of a farmer and his average-sized family and tide them over until the next harvest.  When copra prices are high, enough cash can even be earned which can be used to buy a few luxury items or be set aside as savings for the family's future needs.

Copra, for the uninitiated, is, of course, the dried or desiccated meat of the coconut which is a rich source of coconut oil. The oil has many industrial uses and also happens to be a vital ingredient in many food and medicinal products.  The Philippines is one of the world's top copra producers with more than a quarter of its available agriculture land planted to coconuts.  It is said that more than a third of the country's total population is dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the copra industry.

Nowadays with copra prices spiraling to their lowest in years which many are blaming on a worldwide glut in palm oil stocks, many local coconut farmers in Lianga are wondering if it would be worth their while even to think about harvesting their trees,   Most of them are already grappling with the depressing thought that if they do go on to schedule a harvest, the high production cost of their copra may far outstrip whatever little prospective income they may eventually earn.  This leads to the specter of being forced to borrow more money in order to survive and go deeper into debt after already seeing their incomes steadily shrink in previous harvests as copra prices continue to fall.