The growing geotextiles market can now add coconut fiber to its list of production materials. Domingo F. Panganiban, secretary of the Philippine Department of Agriculture, has announced that the Philippines will develop fiber-processing technologies that will focus on the production and market development of coconuts.
Known as the Nucleus Farm Development Project, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) joined forces to launch the initiative in April 2006. While overall coconut production has dropped in recent years, prices have swelled because of the increase of health and beauty products containing coconut oil. This resurgent interest in what Filipinos call “the tree of life” is now spurring interest in coconut-based fibers and fabrics.
In December 2005, Filipino entrepreneur Justino Arboleda, from Juboken Enterprises in Albay, Philippines, won The World Challenge award for developing soil-erosion technology from discarded coconut husks. The eco-webbing, designed to act as surrogate root systems to prevent mudslides in the Philippines’ deforested regions, is called “coconet.” The product was widely adopted throughout the country, prompting Arboleda to further use coconut-fiber technology to manufacture doormats and stuffing for car seats and mattresses.
Coconut is one of four major agricultural sectors in the Philippines and comprises 74% of the country’s commercial cropland. The world’s No. 2 coconut producer, second only to Indonesia, the Philippines accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s total coconut production.
Historically, farmers viewed discarded coconut husks as waste and burned them or threw them into nearby rivers. Farmers are now selling the husks as the raw material to make other fibers, and they are finding their own uses for them in brushes, cordage, and other handicrafts. Husks are even being used as low-cost cooking fuel in some homes.
Using the fiber from the husks, called “coir,” will do more than just put Juboken Enterprises on the map. Juboken says,“coconetting” and other coconut fiber-based products are improving the lives of more than 1,500 families that are involved in this development project. More than 95,000 ft.2 of coconets are now produced monthly, allowing each family to earn a supplemental income of about $5 per day.