Five years ago, in the town of Jose Rizal in southeastern Palawan where there was virtually no electricity, Internet signal and modern infrastructure, a foreigner responded to an invitation from the Philippine government to help develop land for coconut farming.
Christian Eyde Moeller, an entrepreneur from Denmark with extensive experience in agriculture, pondered: “While the demand for coconut products is strong and expanding globally, I asked myself, ‘Why are coconut farmers still poor? The indigenous community in Palawan has land but it’s not cultivated. How do you create an opportunity for them to improve their livelihood?”
Moeller acknowledged that the problem existed for a long time. The opportunity to help solve the problem challenged him.
It led him to put up Lionheart Farm.
Moeller said that his primary aim was to build a business that would also be socially and environmentally responsible. To reconcile these factors, he adapted a philosophy: “More with less.”
To Lionheart, it meant a higher output of products with less water, less land and less carbon footprints.
“We discovered that the coconut palm tree is one of the most efficient photosynthetic converters of energy from the sun into calorific value,” Moeller said.
He persuaded the Lionheart team to develop a different kind of coconut through pollination — mixing a low or dwarf coconut with a tall one called the Laguna coconut.
Moeller explained: “The male pollen from the tall coconut pollinates the female pollen of the dwarf coconut. The children of the dwarf become a hybrid, meaning the nuts, if they fall on the ground, they grow into a hybrid coconut.”
Compared to the ordinary kind, a hybrid coconut produces three times more nuts.
On its website, Lionheart describes its product that comes from the sap harvested from coconut flower. The sap is processed into natural sweeteners.
“Tapping the coconut flower sap is nothing new; it has been practiced at the small farmer level for centuries. At Lionheart, we are building on this tradition to create a menu of different flavor profiles, textures and colors to match our customers’ preferences and specifications. The color of the coconut sweetener can go from caramelized black to beach-white, while the texture can be like honey or crystallized grainy, extra-fine, thick or thin.”
To save on expenses, Moeller said Lionheart decided to make its own organic fertilizer. The idea came from rice millers’ leftover husks in Rizal, which used to be burned until the Department of Environment and Natural Resources banned it.
“We collect the husks and put them in a steam boiler. The ash that comes out from the rice husk is recycled into the ground to improve the soil,” Moeller explained.
Last July, Lionheart produced 700,000 kilos of bio-organic fertilizer.
Moeller added that Lionheart has also been helping discourage the massive illegal cutting of hardwood trees in the forests of Rizal which are sold to make charcoal.
“About 800 trees are being cut every month just in three barangays,” said Moeller. “These are 40-year-old trees, ipil, kamagong…”
In 2015, Lionheart started out with 500 workers from Rizal town. Today the company has 1,200 full-time employees.
In addition, Moeller said, hundreds of families earn a living as Lionheart suppliers of cow manure, cocofeed, ginger, tubli, katakat, tuba — natural ingredients used in growing coconuts.
“We buy leftover fish in the market because we can extract nutrients from it,” added Moeller. “So, all waste in organic form, we collect.”
From a financial perspective, Moeller said that coconut farming requires six to 10 years’ worth of investment. “This is a long-term type of investment because when you plant the coconut, it takes five years for that first coconut to bear fruit.”
Moeller recalled that when he first met with the provincial government of Palawan, the objective was to develop sustainable agriculture in Rizal town.
He was informed that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development was established to set standards among companies operating in the province.
Its goal, Moeller said, was to be “an active partner in helping companies gain a better understanding of sustainable food production.”
When Lionheart’s operations were assessed, Moeller said with pride: “We scored 4.79 out of 5.”