Coconuts spread like a carpet out under the sun, flanking the dirt road of a small community in Tagbaobo. I see people busy and absorb with what they are doing with the coconuts. “They are copra workers!” my motorbike driver, Ginjan tells me. I was supposed to go to my next waterfall destination coming from Hagimit Falls in Peñaplata, north of Samal Island but this scenery of copra workers in a small community of Tagbaobo caught my attention. Since I had the luxury of my own vehicle, I told Ginjan to head back.
“They make coconut oil out of these white coconut meat and they make coals out of the husk which burns better than regular wood coals” one of the lady copra workers told me in tagalog when I asked what they are used for. I watch the community, copra workers composed of different age groups and genders doing work from shedding out the coconut meat and separating the husk while some burly guys continue pouring in basket loads of dried coconuts for them to process. The coconut meat are then dried under the sun which turns them into copra. Traders would then buy these in kilos ranging from Php 25-40/kilo depending on the buyer.
My presence there was a wonderful distraction to the workers who I saw before I came were really focused on what they are doing. Even under the mid-day sun, everyone were trying to finish as many coconuts as they can. Yet here I am disrupting their work, asking a lot of questions and taking photos. And as usual from any provinces, they would think they would appear on TV or magazines somewhere. People were laughing and exchanging comments to give their best smiles on camera.
For me, it was worthy a stop to watch these people do their livelihood. Copra farming is also a large industry in Davao and Samal Island also shares a portion of this market. “At times we work early morning until the sunsets. We workers earn from Php7-10/kilo. So the more we produce the more we earn” another worker told me that’s why in some households, even the kids share in the work. While copra farming is a huge industry there really is no regulation on prices and sometimes workers, under a manager would accept what prices trader have to offer especially in more rural places like this. I do hope these copra workers earn their day’s worth knowing the Philippines is one of the largest exporters of coconut oil in the world.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.