Scientists in Zamboanga are in a hurry to tap the promises of coconut. They have selected coconut varieties with four to seven more flowers than conventional coconut trees.
The varieties are short to medium in height, have higher sugar-grade sap, and convent more of the sap to sugar.
Working at the Philippine Coconut Authority’s (PCA) Zamboanga Research Center, the plant breeders have identified varieties with very high Vitamin E content, high medium chain fatty acids, and higher oil yield. They have identified improved high yielding true-to-type and self-pollinating makapuno varieties.
Appropriate production and processing protocols are being crafted for these high value coconut varieties with the objective of increasing production and improving quality. Initial research and development indicate that the varieties surpass the Philippine National Standards for coconut sap sugar and Virgin Coconut Oil.
Coconut sap sugar (“coco sugar” to most consumers), virgin coconut oil, and makapuno currently come from old stands of coconut palms, most of them low-yielding or even unproductive, and genetically inferior. Supply, as a result, may be erratic at times.
As Division Chief of PCA’s Zamboanga Research Center, I lead a research team composed of Dr. Susan M. Rivera, Ernesto E. Emmanuel, and Dr. Ma. Judith B. Rodriguez that is looking at better ways to tap the genetic potential of coconuts. The research, supported by Department of Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), is expected to come up with high value and emerging products.
Take galactomannan that comes from makapuno, a mutant coconut. The very rich amount of galactomannan in makapuno, in fact, makes its meat soft, fluffy, and gelatinous.
Makapuno’s genetic abnormality is valued for producing soft, jelly-like glutinous meat for sweetened desserts, ice cream, candies, and pastries. Galactomannan, for example, slows ice cream from melting down. The viscous makapuno liquid is made into powder that is used as food additive, thickener, binder, extender, gelling agent, emulsifier, and stabilizer in the food and pharmaceuticals industries.
The traditional makapuno variety is tall and has low yield but after almost ten years of painstaking and pioneering research at the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Regional Coconut Research Center at the Visayas State College of Agriculture (VISCA) in Baybay, Leyte, researchers have turned out a variety that bears nut earlier, yields high, and are dwarf.
Dr. Maria Judith Rodriguez of the PCA Albay Research Center has also developed a method of isolating galactomannan from makapuno. The compound, also called Mak (for Makapuno) Gum, is biofilm used a wound gauze and as food wraps. It’s quite versatile, and used in hand sanitizer as well and as a substitute to or combined with agarose or polyacrylamide to lessen the cost of electrophoresis, a laboratory analysis procedure.
All these make makapuno an attractive crop. The same is true for coconuts in general. Coconut sap sugar, for example, has a low Glycemic Index of 30 to 40 that makes it popular with sugar-conscious consumers and diabetics. On the other hand, virgin coconut oil’s medium chain fatty acids are claimed to be a goof antidote to indigestion, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s.
Coconut’s potentials are limitless, as shown by Terry Taray of North Cotabato who earns a gross income of Php 12,000 per tree – all from coco sugar harvested out of an improved variety from PCA. With a density of 143 palms per hectare, that is equivalent to Php 1.716 million in gross income.
In comparison, using copra as a reference, traditional coconut plantations product one tone of copra per hectare. At Php 30 per kilo of copra, the gross income is only Php 30,000. Even with improved coconut varieties with a potential of four tons of copra per hectare, the gross income is only Php 120,000. The huge difference in potential income shows that more needs to be done to yield more pesos from coconuts.
A fourth of the country’s farms are planted to coconuts by about 3.5 million farmers in 68 and 79 provinces. It is an industry that averages 5.97% of the Gross Value Added and 1.14% of the Gross Domestic Product.
In the 10 years from 2004 and 2013, coconut-based exports totaled $1.3 billion, consistently among the country’s top ten merchandise exports. The Philippines produces nearly a fourth of global copra output. At 3.4 million hectares in 2011, it is second only to Indonesia in terms of coconut hectarage. In 2013, 338 million nut-bearing coconut trees yielded 15.5 billion nuts. International markets absorb about 70% of value-added coconut products. It’s the highest export earner among agricultural commodities.
Coconut R&D is on a hurry. One reason is that the PCA is on a planting and replanting spree with 195,000 hectares in 2014 and 225,821 hectares this year and the same hectarage in 2016, even using the spaces between coconut trees.
Written by: Ramon L. Rivera Philippine Coconut Authority Published by: Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute