Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Coconut industry, we have a problem
Our coconut farmers have been enjoying high market price for their copra lately. Current is currently being bought at 15-16 pesos a kilo, which is a far cry from the price a couple of years ago when a kilo sold for less than five pesos. For the country's 3.5 million coconut farmers and farm workers, the price jump means a huge difference in their standard of living.

The bad news, however, is that there is a disaster coming, which our farmers may not be able to address sufficiently: the European Union reduced last year the maximum limit on aflatoxin, a known carcinogenic, in copra meal from 200 to 20 ppb. Aflatoxin is produced by molds that grow on copra that are insufficiently dried. To address this new stringent European standard, the Philippine Coconut Authority has adopted a new price adjustment scale for moisture content in copra. The new rules mandated by the PCA, which are intended to promote the quality of copra, require copra buyers to reject copra with moisture content 14% or more.

Now here's the big problem: Copra buyers are not rejecting substandard copra. Because of competition among themselves--and also because the Chinese middleman minority cannot be bothered about these aflatoxin levels-- they continue to buy what is supposedly non-merchantable copra. Moldy copra is being processsed by oil mills. The helplessly understaffed PCA can only look in despair as the industry's health standards are massacred at the farm gate.

So if you are not a coconut farmer, why should all this concern you? Because somewhere in your kitchen, a gallon of Minola is probably on the shelf. I'm not sure about the aflatoxin level in our cooking oil (does it get filtered out along the way?), but if you can afford to buy, say, corn oil, then why not?

No comments: