Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos expressed concern that coconut farmers might plunge deeper into poverty because the prevailing prices of copra have rendered their main source of livelihood more untenable.
“Sobrang baba na ng presyo ng kopra, hindi na kayang mamuhay ng disente ang ating mga magsasaka,” Marcos said, urging the government to release the P180-billion coco levy fund to not only help resuscitate the ailing coconut industry but more so, to rescue farmers from their dire situation.
“Our farmers have been waiting for so long to avail of the benefits due them through the coco levy fund. They should not be made to wait any further,” said Marcos, who is running for senator in the midterm elections in May.
Earlier, President Duterte vetoed the bill supposed to strengthen the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and address the problems besetting the coconut industry. Malacanang said the measure lacked vital safeguards and does not fully utilize the coco levy assets for the benefit of marginalized farmers.
“Instead of increasing representatives on the PCA board, the Senate should have provided for the payment of loans which is allegedly the reason for the veto,” Gov Marcos said. “The immediate release of coco levy funds was promised by the President during his first 100 days in office.”
Data from the PCA showed the average farm-gate price of copra has decreased by almost 60 percent from P38.70 per kilo in 2017 to P15.52 per kilo last year.
Aside from the declining price of copra, the domestic coconut industry is also suffering from slow replanting programs; scale insect infestation that has hit the Bicol region, Basilan, Zamboanga peninsula and Romblon; and the failure of government to adjust to the needs of the domestic market which has been losing to Thailand in the coconut water production.
As for rice tariffication, the governor issued an urgent appeal that local farmers’ concerns against unbridled importation be addressed by the government.
“After all, the shortfall in local produce is at a mere 1.5 million metric tons against 12 million consumed annually,” she explained. “Imported rice should be limited and timed not to enter the local market during our harvest season because this will push local prices to unbearable levels for our farmers.”
Marcos fears that if farmers remain unaided, poverty incidence will increase in the provincial areas where farm gate prices continue to drop.