Palawan Coconut Farm believes local community engagement key to global success – Manila Bulletin


The coconut palm is called “the tree of life” because every part of it can be used. However, coconut as a crop has a complicated history in the Philippines, with coconut being a high-value crop while its farmers remain among the poorest and most marginalized in the industry.

A coconut farm in Palawan aims to change that by supporting the local community as they champion sustainability and reforestation.

Lionheart Farms (LF) is located in Rizal, Palawan. “We wanted to build a company that would be very socially and environmentally responsible,” says co-founder and chairman Christian Eyde Moeller, a Danish entrepreneur. “I myself invested in climate technology over 20 years ago, so we also saw an opportunity to solve some of the climate problems through agriculture [while] using the very efficient cultivation of the coconut tree.

The founders also wanted to address long-standing structural challenges: “Our observation was how come a palm, a tree or a crop that offers so many possibilities, how come the producers of walnuts coco are struggling?

These concerns inform the three key words of the farm “Healthy, Sustainable, Traceable”.

Lionheart Farms has over 500,000 palm trees, all planted on leased IP land. It also employs members of the local community who are, if not from Jose Rizal himself, at least mostly from Palawan. (Lionheart Farms)

Sustainable from the start

Moeller, whose father was a wheat and barley farmer, understood that to be successful, a farm had to be built with intention and run like the business it really is. Even before its inception, Moeller and its partners knew they wanted a profitable, sustainable farm that benefits the local community.

“I believe that when you look at the [United Nations’] The Sustainable Development Goals are like an open book of business opportunities… each one represents big global issues, and whenever there is a big global issue, there is also a huge opportunity,” Moeller says. “All of these things inspired us to try and build this business, which of course is where Lionheart Farms is today.”

They did a lot of research and consulted with experts on how to maximize the profitability of a coconut plantation. Two of the most striking things they achieved were that the commonly used coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) tends to be low yielding and that the national average is around 50 nuts per year per tree, compared to, say, 300-400 nuts per year in India. “In well-managed areas, these yields can be significantly higher than the national average,” says Moeller.

One of the reasons for the current national average is that most coconut growers “don’t have the habit of paying attention to, or…deliberately establishing a coconut farm with varieties carefully selected that are specific to the purpose you wish to harvest from”.

Because of this, the founders of Lionheart Farms realized they needed to establish a new farm, especially since they wanted to focus on actively managing their crops. “Before we even plant, we actively treat the soil with pre-treatment and we actually have a maintenance program that [involves a] monthly request [of organic inputs] with every palm,” Moeller says. “We do this because we believe that if you do this and carefully select your plant material and if you actually set up the farm in such a way that it is integrated into processing, you can essentially create more value and if you can create more value, then you are also able to share this value, for example by offering better conditions to your workers. And you can build a stronger business.

Cultivation and maintenance

All trees at Lionheart Farms are maintained regularly to ensure maximum productivity. Much of the cultivation practices implemented come from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). “We quickly discovered that all we had to do was just look at the established research and all the answers were already there,” Moeller says. “What we’ve done is adaptive science. You take the existing established scientific research that is available and modify and adapt it to the specific situation.

The farms are planted with over 10 different coconut varieties chosen for their higher yield. (Lionheart Farms)

Part of this involved scaling up basic natural farming techniques from the backyard so they could be applied on a larger scale. A specific example would be the use of bioorganic fertilizers, which LF produces in the field and devotes a great deal of time and research. This was taken from the Korean JADAM agricultural principle of producing organic fertilizers that also act as bioorganic pesticides and fungicides. LF produces more than 600,000 kilos of organic fertilizer per month, all for its own use.

Moeller declined to name the varieties of coconuts grown, “but I can say that we have over 10 different varieties and what we have focused on is having varieties that allow for higher yields.” .

In addition to the aforementioned soil quality, the quality of the planting material is also important, as well as the commitment of farmers to actively manage their crops as they grow. Optimal land use is also essential. “[It’s] part of the principle of sustainability… What you want to do is minimize your negative impact [impact] on the society [and] the environment, so what we have also done is, again, follow the APC recommendation [to] increase planting density per hectare [and use a] cultivation so that you get very efficient water retention… The next thing you do is actively apply your bio organic fertilizers. That’s the go-to formula,” says Moeller, adding that they use a variety of cover crops, kudzu (pueraria montana) being the most common.

All LF partner farmers have access to training on agricultural practices, as well as inputs such as organic fertilizer. “As part of our advocacy to promote sustainable regenerative agriculture, we of course distribute it to others so they can have a chance to adopt it,” says Moeller. “When we held the training, it was open to everyone… We call it our community engagement…. It’s something that… we’ve been part of the DNA of our business model since day one.

Community growth as part of business strategy

Today, the farms have over 500,000 palm trees, all planted on leased IP land. “We went to the indigenous community and said that you had land that was not developed…Why don’t we farm this land together? You contribute with [leasing] Earth [and] the will to work, and in return we will provide the capital, the management, the access to markets. Essentially, we will take the business risk of putting this business together,” shares Moeller, adding that they also work with farmers in an area of ​​up to 200 km around the farm.

LF employs members of the local community who are, if not from the municipality itself, at least mostly from Palawan. “We’re completely digitized through and through, and we did 100% of that ourselves,” Moeller says.

LF employs members of the local community who are, if not from Jose Rizal himself, at least mostly from Palawan. “We’re completely digitized through and through, and we did 100% of that ourselves,” Moeller says. (Lionheart Farms)

LF also aims to produce as many of its necessary supplies within the local community. For example, the waste of 600,000 kilos of bio-organic fertilizer needed each month is purchased from the local community, creating livelihoods for around 200 additional people. “What’s happening now is you’re spending 100% in the local economy, that’s where you get to your sustainability. And when we talk about sustainable development, it’s really about recognizing that… job creation is actually the most effective agent of change.

There are also educational programs, forest and riverbank regeneration, and agroforestry programs, the latter in cooperation with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). LF has also created a foundation that promotes indigenous culture and is currently working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to become “the first agricultural company in Asia to be certified for the issuance of climate bonds “.

Quality products for the export market

Lionheart Farms manufactures different coconut products including Coconut Blossom Nectar and Syrup, Coconut Blossom Sugar, Coconut Vinegar, and Coconut Aminos, primarily for the European and North American export market. This stems from the founders asking themselves the question, “what are the most efficient ways to extract the maximum calorific value from what [you’re] go harvest” and discover through research that “if you harvest the sap from the coconut blossom…you can harvest more calories per palm tree or per hectare than if you harvest nuts” and that the sap can be transformed into a multitude of products, which means more jobs.

Lionheart Farms “is very focused on connecting with more markets around the world.”

“We want to connect with…customers around the world who truly care about the same things that we care about both in terms of people and planet,” says Moeller. “I’m talking about benchmarking against the highest industry standards for food safety, medical activity…. We literally seek every level of accreditation, certification, compliance that there is, and that’s simply because we believe it’s the best way to give consumers the kind of assurance they’re looking for…. »

For example, they are currently “adopting an international standard on how to work within indigenous communities”.

The story of Lionheart Farms is just as important as the products it makes. “For some people it might just be a sweetener [or] a seasoning, but I think if you look at world markets, consumers really want to know what [they’re] buy,” says Moeller. “You want to know where it comes from, how it was produced, you want to know the story. And I think that’s part and parcel of this global consumer trend.

Photos courtesy of Lionheart Farms




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