The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Rihanna, Madonna, are you listening?

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The Philippines could use some help rebuilding it’s coconut industry after the typhoon

Responding to the emergency is the most important thing right now.  Thousands, perhaps millions of Filipinas and Filipinos need urgent assistance after their country was rocked by the one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall.  People are vulnerable and lives can be saved.  That’s the most important thing right now.

But sometime in the weeks ahead, you may start hearing about coconuts.

Jire Carreon/Oxfam
Oxfam staff came upon a village in the East of Samar that had not had access to clean drinking water for two days. To try to help the situation the staff clubbed together to buy water for the village. Photo: Jire Carreon/Oxfam

The Philippines is the world’s second-biggest coconut grower, with about 1/4 of global production.  Coconut oil is a major export product and coconuts contribute to the livelihoods of one in every five Filipinos.  The Philippines has been a major source for the coconut water that has become a beverage rage in the last few years, growing by 100% in one year.  Coconut water has caught on as a “natural low-calorie source of vitamins and electrolytes.” It hasn’t hurt that celebrities like Madonna and Rihanna have gotten in on the act.

Even before the typhoon, industry analysts had started noticing that coconut prices have been rising.  Demand for coconut products has been rising about 10% a year, but production is growing only about 2% a year.  It’s not yet a crisis for the coconut water companies, partly because their profit-margins are so high that they can afford higher costs for raw materials.  But at some point, investing in more and better coconut production will be needed to sustain the coconut water boom.

One problem is aging trees.  Coconuts are most productive between ages 10 and 30, and many of the existing stock of trees were planted after World War II, so they produce as little as half of what they could.

The typhoon has flattened coconut plantations in the Philippines.  Even before the storm, the Philippines Coconut Authority already had a modest coconut replanting program operating, but the scale and speed of replanting will need to accelerate to avoid a longer-term problem for millions of Filipinos who depend on coconuts.

Replanting and rebuilding the Philippines’ coconut industry would be great role for the big coconut water companies (including DrPepper, Snapple Group, Coca Cola, and Pepsi) to help with.  Public-private partnership, anyone?

Join the conversation

  1.  avatarcoco rich

    Dear Mr. Kripke

    YOU MUST KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. Thanks for keeping us informed regarding world trends in coconuts. You raise an interesting set of ideas: responding to crisis, saving lives in PI and using coconuts as an investment!! Wow, now I need your input with one more dimension. But, who am I?
    I’m a rag-tag island missionary here in windy, central Philippines – with a bunch of fat, still-standing coconuts and a plantation full of skinny, black-haired kids.
    You might find this interesting: besides growing coconuts, the kids and I help harvest them for the copra. But, like the other growers here, we can’t sell it for much. There must be millions of nuts here – but nobody can afford a big truck or boat to ship them out to the west. So, there’s an old family here who for many years quietly takes them off our hands for a few pesos per kilo. Some harvests we just eat the ones that fall and practice lawn bowling; it’s just not worth the trouble or the money to wrestle them off the trees.
    What’s the good news? It’s that we are trying to support ourselves and we can always eat those fat, sweet green coconuts! But they’re coming out of our ears! And, the kids are still skinny because they need more protein! So I’m searching high and low for a better buyer. That’s where you come in: you might know somebody who needs these trendy nuts.
    How can you help? You could help our co-co cause just by talking to the right people. Perhaps you know a Nature-Buff-Beverage-Colleague, or a Big-Time-Cigar-Chewing-Tycoon, or Madonna or somebody who knows what you know, and would respond with interested questions. Part of my answer will be: just visit our plantation on a hot day and have one of those heavenly-sweet, refreshing sport drinks right off our 30 to 40 year old trees. There is nothing else like it – I don’t care what island you’re from – it will quench your thirsty desire more than anything you’ve ever had. They are awe-sweeet! Come for a visit – see for yourself!
    My Dad told me that, “nothing happens until somebody sells something.” Now, neither of us are paid sales-people but we can talk about stuff we’re interested in, and that’s why we ask questions. Good questions get good answers. I love your question to the celebs that are already involved. Keep writing; you’re good at it.
    Thanks for helping;

  2.  avatarNelson T. Enojo

    Thank you so much for taking time to publish this down to earth observation.

    It took our forefathers a generation to cover our islands with these tree of life. However in one swept of nature it flattened the plantations. Restoring these industry means a decade to bear fruits.

    This is a long wait for farmers affected by the devastation. Maybe to expedite aid, cash crop and fast growing seedlings like coffee & cacao suitable for intercropping to affected areas should be taken into consideration. We are making proposals for a massive seedling production for the local government here in our province of Southern Leyte. Hoping they will embrace the concept and implement the program.
    Thank you.
    Southern Leyte, Philippines


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