Unhusking the great potentials of coco fibers

By Emily B. Bordado

The coconut husks that our farmers tend to just throw away are actually big source of income when converted into fiber and are excellent environment –friendly materials for various industrial products and applications. This is what Bicolano entrepreneur and multi awardee Engineer Justino Arboleda has proven for himself - that coconut husks can actually bring wealth, provide long-term environment solutions and bring livelihood opportunities to marginalized communities.

Arboleda who was awarded the prestigious BBC World Challenge in 2005 for his coco enterprise as the Best Grassroot Project in the World is the owner/manager of Juboken Enterprises and Coco Technologies Corporation (COCOTECH), our country’s leading bioengineering company and coco coir manufacturer.

COCOTECH engages in the manufacture and marketing of coconut husk-derived products. Among the products it manufactures are baled decorticated fibers, soil erosion control products, horticultural products, coconut fiber pads and charcoal briquettes. The company also designs and implements bio-engineering and erosion control installation.

A recipient of the prestigious Golden Shell Award from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Agora Award for Marketing Excellence and the Global Ecop-Tech Award during the World Expo 2005 in Japan, COCOTECH in partnership with JUBOKEN Enterprises also owned by Arboleda is the leading bio-engineering company in the Philippines. According to Arboleda who was also conferred the national Gawad Saka Outstanding Agri-Entrepreneur award by the DA in 2008 their company “more than just a business venture, (it) aims to address the growing global problem of land degradation, while economically empowering the marginalized coconut farming communities.”

“Bo” (as he is fondly called by his family and colleagues) with his wife Julie and their son Ken run the corporation with Julie attending to the administrative matters and marketing and Ken helping in the product design and packaging. Bo says that coconut husk is an abundant resource in our country but it is also the largest farm waste with about 8 billion husks burned or thrown away and 3 billion of these used as fuel to make copra. He deplores the very low utilization of this resource citing that our domestic utilization of coconut husk is only 20%. “We hardly use our coconut,” he said.

He enumerates the many advantages of coconut coir - as an effective water filter, absorbent, good insulation material, as possible replacement for asbestos, non carcinogenic; good for soundproofing, no disposal fee for coco fiber; good for soil conditioning and aeration, biodegradable but don’t easily decompose.

Among the coconut by products developed by Cocotech for erosion control are: coco fiber net, coco peat block, coco peat brick, and coco peat tiles. According to the catalogue printed by Cocotech, fiber net is made from 100% coir fiber woven into high strength nets for extreme slope stabilization, protection of high velocity intermittent flow channel.

The coco fiber roll or fascine made from 100% decorticated coconut fiber compressed in tubular nylon netting and the coco fiber mat made of coco coir fiber stitched into mats of different specifications are used as wall proof and roof insulation, furniture liners, mulching materials, grass mats and erosion control blankets.

Coco peat block is coconut coir dust sieved in 5mm. mesh. It is sun-dried and sterilized at 120 degrees centigrade and compressed. According to Eng. “Bo” these coco blocks could easily be broken by simply adding 30 liters of water to one block. They are suitable for nurseries.

Meanwhile, cocopeat bricks are coconut coir dust sieved in 5mm. or 10mm. mesh. These are sundried and sterilized at 180-200 degrees centigrade, compressed and packed in shrink plastic. One liter expands to 7-8 liters in 20 min. when water is added. These are suitable for retail and household.

Cocopeat tiles are coconut coir dust sieved in 5mm. or 10mm. mesh. Like the coco bricks they are sundried or sterilized at 180-200 degrees centigrade.Compressed and packed in shrink plastic. Pack expands to 800 ml when water is added. They are used for flooring.

They also produce the cocogreen wattle used for orchids, grow pole for vines and creeping plants; coco fiber plant liner; charcoal briquette, pot holder, doormats and other home decors.

The left over materials from coco peat are made into chips and are used as planting medium since they are good for soil aeration. The coco dusts are granulated into coco charcoal and these are used as fuel, chicken feed and as fertilizer.

Engr. Arboleda is now working on his latest coco product developed – the coco bed foams. Coco peat mix with rubber latex is designed to last 20 years as against the 5 years life span of current bed foams available in the market. He has applied for funding assistance to the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) of the DA to finance the procurement of the needed equipment and the development of this new product.

The company has 25 regular employees and 15 technical experts. In addition, the company provides employment to some 4,000 piece workers or about 1,000 households not only in Albay province but also in the adjoining Sorsogon province. The company in coordination with the local officials has tapped marginalized communities and unemployed or low-income household members especially women and children to do the twining and weaving of coco fibers and earn P100 – P250 a day.

The company which started small with only an initial capitalization of P67,000 is now known globally, has been exporting its products to foreign countries and has completed several projects in Germany, Japan, United States, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka and Dubai. Engineer Bo said that China alone requires 10,000 tons of coco fiber per year. Even locally, more and more large plantations like Dole Philippines are using cocopeat for their pineapple production as they noted a production increase of 12%.

Engineer Bo says that while coconut farming is considered a sunset industry the coco fiber industry has a bright prospect to become a sunshine industry and be the coconut farmers’ hope for a better and more prosperous life.