By JAMES TABABA
The recently held event, “Technology to People, Coco-usapan: Hybrids Tungo sa Masaganang Niyugan,” took place at the Hive Hotel Convention Center in Quezon City on June 9. The program aimed to showcase the efforts and achievements of the Coconut Hybridization Program, a key initiative of the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD). The event highlighted various programs, projects, and initiatives supported by the council, emphasizing the significance of technology in driving progress and prosperity in the coconut industry.
Juanito T. Batalon, Jr., Deputy Executive Director for Research and Development at DOST-PCAARRD, delivered an opening speech highlighting the agency’s commitment to bridging technology and people through the dissemination of their funded projects to various media platforms. He emphasized the importance of leveraging scientific advancements to improve the coconut industry’s productivity, resilience, and competitiveness.
The Coconut Hybridization Program, a vital component of DOST-PCARRD’s Industry Strategic Program (ISP) for coconut program aims to tackle the shortage of coconut seedlings and enhance coconut yields by developing and promoting hybrid coconut varieties. Compared to traditional coconut varieties, coconut hybrids offer several advantages, including faster growth, increased fruit production, higher copra yield, and better resilience to water stress.
The success of the Coconut Hybridization Program has led to DOST-PCAARRD’s inclusion as one of the agencies responsible for overseeing the advancement of coconut hybridization research and the establishment of seed farms and nurseries nationwide, as mandated by the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Act (RA 11524). This ongoing initiative aims to ensure widespread planting of hybrids and superior open-pollinated varieties, fostering a stable, productive, and progressive coconut industry.
“We are proud to have supported the research project of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) in producing and distributing over 7,000 PCA-15-10 hybrids, known as the Tacunan Dwarf x Laguna Tall hybrids,” Batalon stated. The program has successfully established five hybridization sites in CALABARZON, equipped extension workers and farmers with hybridization technology, and imparted excellent agricultural practices and farm management techniques.
DOST-PCAARRD’s initiative on the coconut industry
Director Leilani D. Pelegrina, from the Office of Crops Research Division at DOST-PCAARRD, underscored the council’s unwavering commitment to elevating coconut quality and boosting annual yields through various comprehensive initiatives. DOST-PCAARRD’s research and development initiative on coconut science and technology program aims to achieve several key objectives. The first objective is to improve the quality of planting materials and increase the annual yield from 45 to 150 nuts per fruit per year. This involves collaborative efforts with UPLB, UPD, and PCA in varietal improvement and selection, specifically through the coconut genomics program. Through this program, heirloom varieties such as the Catigan Dwarf and Laguna Tall coconut varieties are being sequenced to identify valuable genetic markers for high yield and quality copra, oil, other by-products, and insect resistance. Furthermore, the initiative includes the production of high-yielding coconut varieties using the enhanced Coconut Somatic Embryogenesis Technology (Cset) protocol, as well as a hybridization program in Region 4-A: CALABARZON through directed Natural and Assisted Pollination schemes.
In addition to improving planting materials, the program aims to reduce yield loss caused by pests and diseases. To achieve this, DOST-PCAARRD collaborates with NCA, DLSU, UPLB, and Mindanao State University. The development of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) protocol is a key component of this effort. The protocol focuses on effectively managing coconut scale insects (CSI) and coconut beetles, two major pests that pose a significant threat to coconut trees. The program also includes the establishment of laboratories for the mass production of identified biocontrol agents that can help control the population of coconut pests. Additionally, morphological and molecular diagnostic tools are being developed to accurately identify Coconut Scale Insect and its natural enemies, enabling early detection and targeted pest control measures. The creation of CSI prediction maps and counting software further enhances monitoring and management strategies for pest outbreaks.
Furthermore, the DOST-PCAARRD initiative aims to develop and enhance the utilization of coconut value-added products. This involves various efforts such as designing and fabricating machines for solar drying coconut meat, ethanol stills, tree climbing harvesting devices, and mechanical dehuskers. These technological advancements improve processing efficiency and ensure the production of high-quality coconut products. Additionally, the program includes capacity-building initiatives for farmers through trainings on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), farming systems, and protocol processing. This equips farmers with the necessary knowledge and skills to maximize their coconut cultivation and processing practices.
Moreover, the initiative focuses on identifying the best-performing hybrids and varieties recommended for commercial production of coconut sap sugar and Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO). By harnessing the potential of these high-value coconut products, the program aims to enhance the overall profitability and sustainability of the coconut industry. This entails optimizing processing protocols, from sugar-grade toddy harvesting to sap sugar processing and packaging, to meet the quality standards required for commercial production of coco sap sugar.
Through these comprehensive initiatives, DOST-PCAARRD seeks to propel the coconut industry forward. By improving planting materials, reducing yield loss, and maximizing the value-added products derived from coconuts, the program contributes to the growth and sustainability of the Philippine coconut sector. Ultimately, these efforts benefit farmers and the overall economy by creating opportunities for increased productivity, income generation, and market competitiveness in the coconut industry.
Philippine hybrid coconut
In the presentation by Ramon L. Rivera, Deputy Administrator for Research and Development Branch at the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the advantages of planting hybrid coconuts were highlighted. These hybrids offer numerous benefits, including faster growth, higher and more stable copra yields, and the potential to produce superior high-value products. With their uniformity and ease of harvest, hybrid coconuts prove to be an efficient use of inputs and demonstrate resilience in recovering from water stress.
Rivera emphasized the promising potential of hybrid coconuts, sharing that they typically begin flowering within 3 to 4.5 years and can be harvested for fruit around 4 to 5 years. These medium to large-sized nuts yield copra ranging from 237 to 310 grams per nut and 4 to 6 tons per hectare. Remarkably, a single hectare of hybrid coconut trees can bear an impressive 15,000 to 22,000 fruits, and the hybrids often possess a higher content of Medium Chain Fatty Acids, adding to their value.
While hybrid coconuts present remarkable advantages, Rivera acknowledged some concerns. Vulnerability to pilferage in shorter varieties, smaller nut size in certain hybrids, the need for increased inputs, susceptibility to certain diseases, limited seed availability, and perceptions about their economic lifespan compared to tall varieties were among the factors to be considered before embarking on hybrid coconut cultivation.
The development of Philippine hybrid coconuts involves a meticulous process that combines the best parental palms, such as Catigan Green Dwarf, Malayan Red Dwarf, Bago Oshiro Tall, Baybay Tall, Laguna Tall, and Tagnanan Tall. The creation of hybrid varieties requires 15 years of testing to ensure optimal quality.
Addressing the shortage of nurseries and production of hybrid planting materials, the PCA is actively seeking committed coconut farmers to serve as sites for hybrid material production. The agency aims to supply the needs of each region and establish hybrid model farms that showcase the profitability of coconut hybrids. PCA agriculturists, along with representatives from the Department of Agriculture and local government units, provide hands-on training in on-farm coconut hybridization protocols and nursery management to coconut farmers and associations.
Rivera highlighted the competitive advantage of the Philippines’ coconut industry, noting that other countries eagerly anticipate Philippine coconuts and technologies. Encouraging support for local coconut products and the industry, he emphasized the importance of patronizing Philippine coconut products.
With the statistics revealing an average of only 45 nuts per fruit per year, indicating that current coconut trees are aging, Rivera stressed the significance of replacing old coconut trees rather than focusing solely on expansion. While earning from the harvesting of coco lumber during the tree replacement process is possible, the proper technology for lumber processing must be employed.
Despite the exceptional characteristics of hybrid coconuts, they currently account for a mere 5% of the total planted hybrid coconut trees. This low percentage is due to the requirement of mother plants to produce a single-cross hybrid. At present, only the PCA manages dwarf varieties, emphasizing the pressing need for more nurseries and farms dedicated to producing hybrid planting materials.
Concerns about the hybridization project
During the panel discussion, Dr. Juanito B. Sangalang, a PCA consultant, emphasized the importance of hiring more personnel from the Philippine Coconut Authority to expedite the development of programs in each region and ensure effective dissemination of these programs to coconut farmers. Dr. Sangalang’s statement highlights the need for increased manpower and resources to support the growth and implementation of initiatives aimed at advancing the coconut industry.
The event also saw the participation of farm owners involved in the model farms of the coconut hybridization program. Among them were Jhoana Camille Anareta of DFarm and Engr. Gabriel Nuez of the KDF farm, who shared their challenges and concerns. One major issue they raised was the lack of farm-to-market roads, which hinders the smooth transportation of coconut products to the market. This transportation bottleneck not only affects the profitability of farm owners but also limits consumer access to these products. Bridging this gap by improving transportation infrastructure is crucial for fostering a thriving coconut industry.
Furthermore, Oliver Angelo Sicam, the owner of Sycamore Farm, contributed valuable insights during the event. Sicam emphasized the significance of value addition for small and medium-scale coconut farmers. He said that merely selling coconut fruits is not sufficient to maximize profitability. Value addition through processing and diversification of coconut products is essential to tap into new markets and increase revenue streams. Sicam’s perspective highlights the need for farmers to explore innovative approaches and capitalize on the potential of value-added products derived from coconuts.
Sylvia Ordonez, Executive director of the Kapampangan Development Foundation Inc., suggested that the technical challenges involved in expanding hybrid production already have feasible solutions that can be provided by the DOST-PCAARRD. This insight highlights the potential role of scientific research and development in overcoming barriers and advancing the coconut industry. By leveraging the expertise and resources of organizations like the DOST-PCAARRD, it becomes possible to address technical limitations and promote the wider adoption of coconut hybridization.