THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

“I come from a coconut producing region. Our livelihood relies mostly on coconut. The few hectares of coconut plantation we own sent my sister and me to school in Manila. Had it not been for the coconut meat that is part of our meals during the Japanese occupation, I won’t be around writing this letter. We owe a lot from the coconut!” – From an e-mail sent to this author

Coconut has been touted as a “lazy man’s crop.” According to an old legend, coconut is God’s gift to the lazy man. “He sleeps in the shade of the tree, is awakened when a nut falls, drinks the milk, and eat some of the meat. He then feeds the rest of the meant to the chickens and cattle, which produce eggs and milk and meat, respectively. The leaves provide thatch for the roof and walls of his coconut hut, and are also woven into hats, baskets and mats.”

With multifarious uses, coconut is indeed a “tree of life.” In the Philippines, the coconut industry is a pillar of the country’s agriculture.  “(Coconut) is the oldest and most strategic industry in the country, comprising 1.14 percent of our gross domestic product,” said the late Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who once served as agriculture secretary.

The Philippines is the world’s second largest producer of coconut products – after Indonesia.  Some 3.565 million hectares of coconut trees are planted all over the country, dominating the landscape in 68 out of the total 81 provinces.

“I take pride in claiming that we are the number one coconut producer in the country, not because Mati is the biggest producer of coconut, but because Mati is the capital town of the biggest coconut producing province and that is, Davao Oriental,” said the come-backing Mayor Michelle Rabat during the first Mindanao Coconut Summit a few years ago.

Coconut is an emblem of Mati’s existence.  About 27 thousand hectares of its total land area of 79,109 hectares is planted to coconut, with 18 thousand farmers cultivating the vastness and the richness of the area that spells livelihood for thousands of people in the locality.

“(Coconut) provides vital economic support to the rural communities, with over 3.5 million farmers directly benefiting from the industry,” reports the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

In the on-going four-part series on coconut, I have written four exportable coconut products that coconut farmers could get engaged themselves into.  These are: buko juice, coco sugar, virgin coconut oil, and coconut vinegar.

But there are other products which I failed to mention in the series.  These are enumerated in the website of  Allow me to share you some of them which coconut farmers may consider:

Coconut sap syrup: This is another natural sugar alternative from coconut. “The sap is boiled until it reached a certain degree.  The coconut syrup is the liquid form of coconut sugar.  It has the same low glycemic index which makes it safer for diabetics.  It can be used for coffee, tea, baking, and cooking.”

Coconut coir: A natural fiber between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut.  “It is used in products such as erosion mats, floor mats, doormats, brushes, and mattresses.  It can also be used in upholstery, padding, sacking and horticulture.”

Coconut milk: The liquid extracted from coconut meat.  “It is thick and creamy which made it a crucial ingredient in many dishes around the world.  Coconut milk is a ready-to-drink beverage but should be consumed immediately as it can spoil in short span of time.”

Desiccated coconut: Fresh coconut meat is grated in a variety of particle size, ranging from fine to shredded types, before being dried. “A good desiccated coconut still has fat content and the mild aroma of coconuts.  It is essential in baking.”

Activated carbon: Also called activated charcoal, it is derived from the shell of coconut and is used in gas purification, decaffeination, metal extraction, medicine, and sewage treatment.  It is also used as air filters in gas masks and respirators.  It is also found in household items like toothpaste and soap.

Coconut lumber: “(This) is a versatile yet low-cost hard, high density wood timber that is used for general structures such as house pillars, building trusses, as well as furniture and flooring.”

Meanwhile, the PCAARRD’s Compendium of Commercially Coconut Technologies has also come-up with some food products derived from coconut: buko pie, coconut jam, and bukayo.

Buko pie: Almost like a coconut cream pie, only it is made of young coconut meats and sweetened condensed milk mixed with skimmed milk, and other ingredients.  The production is done through baking.

Coconut jam: It is made from coconut milk (the first and second press of grated coconut meat) and sugar, preferably muscovado for health-conscious people.

Bukayo: This very sweet Filipino dessert is made by simmering grated young coconut meat in glucose and sugar.