THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is eyeing the creation of a master plan for coconut sap sugar to seize opportunities in the $1.1-billion alternative global market for the natural sweetener.

The master plan, a joint undertaking by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), will be discussed in the first National Coconut Sap Sugar Industry Congress (NCSSIC) with the aim of providing great prospects for Filipino farmers to capture an international market for the natural sweetener.

The increase in demand could be related to the high prevalence of diabetics and the growing interest of health enthusiasts locally and worldwide," Manohar added.

Slated on March 5 to 6 at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City, the NSSIC will push for the establishment of a system to safeguard the coconut sap sugar industry through a product quality certification.

The BAR has been funding a product development project with PCA for coconut with a funding of P2 million. Part of this aided the development of coconut sap as an excellent alternative to sugar.

"We believe our farmers and entrepreneurs can create a niche in natural products whose primary value is their health quality. Coconut sap sugar is one of those products that has already taken off in the market and which still offers so much valuable growth potential," said Dr. Nicomedes Eleazar, BAR director.

PCA Administrator Euclides Forbes said that agency is gathering stakeholders through the NCSSIC since coconut sap sugar is obviously now on a brisk growth path.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala brought up to us the idea of this congress so we can come up with a well thought-out plan," said Forbes.

"There are only three countries competing in the coconut sugar sap supply in the world market today. But we have competitive advantage against Thailand in volume and against Indonesia in terms of quality. We are pioneer in this product," he added.

The Philippines broke into the coconut sap sugar market in the United States on March 2007 after proving that it has a low glycemic index (GI) at 35. Any sugar-based product is considered low in its glycemic index when its GI is 54 and below. This is comparably lower than the 65 to 100 GI range for sugarcane-based sugars.

This is based on a scientific study by the Food and Research Nutrition Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, and as affirmed by studies in the US and Australia.

This makes coconut sap sugar an ideal sweetener for diabetics and health buffs in general. GI is an indicator of how fast carbohydrates convert to glucose in the blood or how fast carbohydrate turns into sugar.

Coconut sap sugar also contains other elements needed by the human body such as potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and magnesium, among others.

Since 2009, the local industry has been exporting coconut sap sugar to Japan which took up 53.6 percent of the country's exports and the US 44.4 percent.

The country also has penetrated other export markets in 2010 including the Middle East, Korea, Hong Kong, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.

While BAR's product development project on coconut will end this year, BAR Technology Commercialization Assistant Director Digna Sandoval said that the agency is still looking for opportunities to finance development of coconut products that offer potential market growth.

"We have been encouraged to see the coconut sap sugar industry grow into one that now consists of many enterprises that are joining our congress in Davao," Sandoval added.

source: menafn

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