Coconut is Life

My grandparents had always processed coconuts, the major product from their agricultural properties, into copra. But when Peter Paul established a processing plant in Sorsogon and started buying dehusked whole coconuts we decided to ditch copra and invested into the Peter Paul way of doing business.
Copra making is a laborious process. Three coconuts make up a kilo of copra, which currently sells for a little over P10 pesos. On the other hand, a kilo of whole coconuts is priced at P5 at Peter Paul, and P4 if we sell it to my middle man, Mulo. One piece of coconut (dehusked) is equivalent to a kilo.

Tia and Peter drying coconut meat under the sun, another method of making copra.

It’s in the process where they part ways. When making copra, after coconuts are dehusked they are cracked open and baked until it reaches a desired moisture content level. This usually takes hours, requiring overtime work. Then they are sliced, compacted into sacks that are then sewn to seal it in, weighed and then sold. Since we produce about three tons of coconuts a week, the labor requirements are tremendous and the hours long.
In contrast, the process is shortened when selling them whole. Once the coconuts are dehusked, they are weighed and then sold.
The only advantage that copra making has over selling them whole is the charcoal byproduct, a sack of which sells for about P400. Still, selling them whole is more labor- and cost-efficient.
My bosses at ARGO Farms (aunts and uncles) ask me why I still use a middleman instead of selling our coconuts directly to Peter Paul. I tell them we would need to maintain a truck to transport the coconuts. Acquiring a truck is doable, but then the lines of trucks loaded with coconuts at Peter Paul are often too long, staying in line for days at times. When left under the sun for long coconuts crack and lose moisture, becoming light. We want our coconuts to be as heavy as possible, in order to command a higher price.

Moreover, a truck on standby for days with that much load can damage its suspension mechanism, not to mention the regular and overtime wages of the truck driver. So I go through a middleman, a win-win arrangement for the both of us.
My middleman is Mulo, whose operation is conveniently located across the entrance to ARGO Farms. During summer when the dirt road is compact, he just brings in his truck to our production area and uses bamboo baskets to contain the coconuts for weighing. Then they are loaded to his truck.
When the roads are muddy the coconuts are sacked and we transport them in our carabao sled to his base. It entails more work for us, but that’s life. And this is the reason why we’re trying to concrete the dirt road all the way to the front gate.
Mulo and I have a love-hate relationship. Lately it’s more of the latter, ever since the price of coconuts dived and never got up. He’s a convenient target, but it’s not really his fault.
Last week he was driving home on his motorcycle when he got into an accident with drunk, irresponsible, unlicensed teen-agers. Mulo sustained severe damages to his hand and leg, and now he’s recovering from an amputation.
He has been training his son to take over his business, often complaining that he’s getting too old for the physically demanding job of coconut buying. Workers are hard to come by. When they’re unavailable, it is Mulo and his son who have to load the coconuts themselves – a sack of which can weigh up to 65 kilos, a basket 45.
Mulo also acts as the truck driver. We are into the first week of our March harvest and since he is presently recuperating, I’ve had to inquire if his operation is still active. I was told it was, and that his son is taking over temporarily.
It angers me that the life of one man – a man who has been working doggedly to earn an honest living – is going to drastically change because some idiots just had too much to drink.

Mulo Esquillo and his guys weighing the coconuts. Wearing blue and red shorts is his son Boboy.
Mulo and Tia

Header photo: Lindy Ocampo

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