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Groups debunk environmental charges against coconut farming

Philippine coconut industry stakeholders, advocacy groups, and academicians debunked recent international articles singling out coconut oil production as both environmental and biodiversity threats.

Dr. Victoria Espaldon, former Dean of University of the Philippines-Los Banos School of Environment Science and Management (UPLB-SESAM), finds the online post “generally a half hazard work.”

She noted that, “the article is vague on whether it is the coconut oil production itself or that landscapes are transformed to coconuts as environmental issues.”

The International Coconut Community (ICC) finds it “intriguing” that the author, Borneo-based Eric Meijaard, chose to headline the threat from coconut oil to shield palm oil, which is under intense attack for its harmful environmental effects.  “Apparently, Mr. Meijaard considers this as a zero-sum competition between coconut oil and palm oil, when there should be none,” said ICC.

ICC is a Jakarta-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific inter-government organization.

The articles, published online on Bloomberg Green and two other independent industry news portals, practically indicted the coconut industry, particularly the process of producing coconut oil as an environmental threat, as worse than palm oil production. 

Quoting a report from the U.K.’s University of Exeter, Bloomberg Green stated that production of coconut oil threatens around 20 animal species for every million tons made.

Dr. Espaldon explained that “the transformation of Philippine landscapes to coconut began hundreds of years ago. At the moment, it is not expanding, rather, coconut areas are receding and being transformed into other land uses or mixed uses (agroforestry).”

She also cited unpublished theses done at the UPLB-SESAM that run counter to the biodiversity hazard angle of the story against the coconut industry noting that, “Coconut-based diversified farms are turning into habitats for wildlife, particularly for birds and insects.”

American Asa Feinstein, a coconut advocate and CEO of Coco Asenso, debunked the articles primarily sourced from Meijaard, a Dutch conservation scientist.

Feinstein explained that “Coconuts are mentioned as a factor that has threatened 66 species, while oil palm has threatened 321 species. If you didn’t catch that, according to the IUCN and contrary to the title of Meijaard’s article, palm oil production has threatened five times more species than coconuts!”

Feinstein also noted that, “the expansion in land area of coconut over the past three decades was 1.8 million hectares” while “oil palm is a rapidly expanding crop that is currently one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation. Over the past three decades, 12.1 million hectares…”

Ateneo School of Sciences Professor Emeritus Toby Dayrit was quick to point out that “no rain forests have been burned in the past 200 years to plant coconuts.”

Dayrit explained that coconuts are “pioneer species in island ecosystems, and coconuts actually promote biodiversity in barren islands and seashores where no other plants grow.”

The United Coconut Associations of the Philippines (UCAP) clarified that only Indonesia and Malaysia are open to corporate farming.

UCAP said that the main problem facing the local industry is actually the near extinction of coconut trees, most of which were planted during the Spanish colonial times two hundred years ago.

The Philippine coconut advocacy group is pleading government regulators to immediately address and avert the collapse of the industry. Palm oil corners nearly 45% of the global market while coconut oil accounts for just about 2%.  But coconut’s usefulness compared to palm goes beyond oil.  Coconut, many times referred to as a low-cost but nutritious poor man’s food, is being used to manufacture VCO and MCT oil health supplements, beauty products, biodiesel, and even aesthetic decors.  Palm, on the other hand, is solely for industrial usage only.  The use of palm oil as biodiesel ingredient is banned in the European Union.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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