By Juan Escandor Jr.
PILI, Camarines Sur—The unexpected $15-million investment pledged to President Aquino in his recent visit to United States has been negotiated by the provincial government of Camarines Sur early this year, according to Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.
Villafuerte, revealed that Pepsi Corporation through its subsidiary Vita Coco with local company AgriNurture, Inc. (ANI) is putting up a facility here for tetra-packing facility to package coconut water.
He said the packaging facility is worth at least $5 million and another $10 million had been pledged for large-scale plantation of coconut over the years.
Villafuerte said the tetra-packing facility will be within a Food Terminal Complex in this capital town which will have its groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 29, the facility targeted to open May 1, next year.
He said since the tetra-packing facility is located here and it is assumed that the large-scale plantation of coconuts will be implemented here or in areas near the facility.
Jonathan Burth, director of operations of Vita Coco, informed Villafuerte that “(o)ver the past four months, All Market, Inc. and ANI has put together the necessary resources to finalize the engineering scope and processing equipment required for the factory in Pili.”
Burth added in a letter to Villafuerte dated Aug. 23, 2011, that the tetra-packing facility “will initially produce 8MM liters of coconut water in the first year.”
He said purchase order for the processing equipment has since been put in by ANI.
Burth said that the commercial production for the project is scheduled to take place on May 1, 2012, and “both parties (Vita Coco and ANI) are putting much resource to ensure that the timeline is being met.”
“We are very excited about getting the project moving with ANI, which will no doubt bring increased job opportunities and export revenue to the province of Camarines Sur,” he said.
In a letter dated Aug. 24, 2011, Antonio L. Tiu, chief executive officer of ANI, requested Villafuerte to speed up the accomplishment of the site for the tetra line which the Vita Coco is to set up.
Tiu projected that the project will help thousands of coconut farmers generate additional income and create additional export revenue for the country aside from the direct investment of Vita Coco and ANI in the amount of at least $5 million.
He said that the project is expected to create at least 1,000 employment opportunities in the Bicol region.
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Buko juice venture to hurt copra industry — farmers
By Sonny Sales
PILI, Camarines Sur — The government’s plan to invest in buko juice will further hurt the failing copra industry in the Bicol region, a coconut farmers group said over the weekend during the groundbreaking of a coco-water processing plant.
In a statement by the chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Camarines Norte, Esmeraldo Bardon claimed that “harvesting young coconuts for buko juice production will drastically affect copra production and would lessen the supply of mature coconuts used for copra.”
The shrinking areas of coconut plantations in Bicol due to land conversions, coco lumber and poorly budgeted programs of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to rehab coco plantations after Typhoon Reming in 2006 resulted in the low coconut production in Albay and Camarines Sur, Bardon said.
According to Bardon, copra production is whole year round affair making it more practical than gathering buko. Traditional copra farmers harvest coconuts every 45 days.
Bardon urged the government to first look into the plight of the coconut farmers before venturing into the coco-water production.
The farmer leader also echoed the sentiments of coco-farmers in Bicol, that government should find way to redistribute the benefits for farmers from the coco-levy fund to alleviate the coco-farmers.
Last Sept. 30, CamSur Gov. Raymund Villafuerte, together with the investors conducted the groundbreaking of the proposed provincial government’s multi-million food terminal site in Bgy. San Jose, this town.
First to be established at the site is a tetra-packing facility for local consumption and $15-million US export and large-scale planting of coconuts, Villafuerte said.
The coco-production plant will be operated by Pepsi Corporation through Vita Coco and local company AgriNurture Inc. (ANI). Vita Coco will produce 100 percent natural coco-water with five essential electrolytes.
The US$15-million coco-water project was one of the major offshoots of the recent visit of President Benigno Aquino III to the U.S. The project was reportedly negotiated by Villafuerte to be located in CamSur.