Coconut Hybrids: A Path to Improved Coconut Farming and Increased Yield, Says Expert
In a recent B-Side episode, Leilani D. Pelegrina, director at the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DoST-PCAARRD), sheds light on the positive impact of coconut hybridization on coconut farming. Speaking with BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol, Pelegrina highlights how coconut hybrids can significantly enhance production for Filipino coconut farmers.
Compared to traditional coconuts, coconut hybrids offer higher yields and exhibit early bearing characteristics. These hybrids can increase annual palm yields to 150 nuts per year, in contrast to the 45 nuts typically achieved with traditional coconuts. Moreover, hybrids start flowering within 3 to 4.5 years, a much faster timeline compared to the average 3 to 7 years for traditional varieties. This accelerated growth can potentially lead to fruit harvesting within 4 to 5 years, rather than the usual 3 to 7 years. However, further verification and replication are needed despite reports of flowering as early as 18 months, as stated by Pelegrina.
Traditional coconut varieties yield approximately 15,000 nuts per year per hectare. Based on the farmgate price of young coconuts or “buko” at P10.47, farmers cultivating traditional varieties can expect annual sales of around P157,000. In contrast, a hectare of hybrid coconuts has the potential to yield 22,000 nuts per year, amounting to approximately P230,340.
Furthermore, intercropping practices, such as growing cash crops like vegetables, coffee, and cacao alongside coconut trees, can provide farmers with additional sources of income.
The Philippines experienced a 1.6% increase in coconut production to 3.26 million metric tons in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. This growth is attributed to increased awareness of coconut benefits and the rising demand for coconut-based products in major developed countries.
The successful coconut hybridization program in CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) will be expanded nationwide. Funded by the DOST-PCAARRD, the program aimed to enhance the production and sustainability of coconut hybrids in Region IV-A from 2018 to 2022.
The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) implemented two hybridization schemes: directed natural pollination and assisted pollination. Multiple project sites were involved in these schemes, with exceptional parental mother palms (e.g., Catigan Green Dwarf and Malayan Red Dwarf) combined with suitable pollen source palms (e.g., Bago Oshiro Tall, Baybay Tall, Laguna Tall, and Tagnanan Tall). Developing coconut hybrid varieties requires at least 15 years of continuous research.
The coconut hybridization program is set to be scaled nationwide through the coconut farmers and industry trust fund (CFITF). Under the Coconut Farmers and Industry Fund Act (Republic Act 11524), farmers can utilize the coconut trust fund to develop the industry. The DoST received the first tranche of funds from the CFITF in 2022, with 20% of the allocation dedicated to coconut hybridization. The PCA manages 15% of the funds for operations and activities, while the council for research and development oversees 5%. Budgets from the fund will be received annually for five years. The PCA aims to increase its coco levy fund allocation by P11 billion in 2024.
Filipino farmers can apply to be accredited as program partners. The PCA has an accreditation process for private farms, including prerequisites such as a minimum area of 5 hectares. Farmers can approach any PCA office or seek assistance from the DOST-PCAARRD, which can refer them to the PCA. Accreditation includes training sessions on pest management and good agricultural practices.
Stakeholders emphasize that, alongside producing coconut hybrids, improving transportation infrastructure and farmers’ access to loans will further promote the coconut industry. The Philippines has 2.5 million coconut farmers, and 69 out of the country’s 82 provinces are classified as coconut-producing by the PCA.