Coconut-not? A multinational’s flawed eco plan

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

I am a GCash user. Most days, I rarely carry cash anymore because I pay via Gcash. It’s seamless and convenient, allowing me to earn “points” to plant trees via GForest.

Gcash is an e-wallet based in the Philippines under Globe Telecommunications.

GForest is one of Gcash’s initiatives and advocacy programs. It allows users to earn points for every transaction they make using the app. Users can also earn GForest points by walking or participating in mobile activities tracked. 

Since its inception, I’m proud to say I have been able to plant more than 10.

However, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed last week, I discovered that not all trees offered are meant for reforestation, such as mangroves or narra trees. There’s an option in the app where you can plant coconut trees. I’m not saying coconut trees are bad – not at all; a tree is a tree. But for what? A coconut plantation for a business venture – Vita Coco.

Vita Coco, Century Pacific, and Gcash

Last year, Century Pacific Food, Inc (CNPF) invested US$40 million to increase coconut water production capacity for a new long-term contract with The Vita Coco Company Inc, which requires approximately 90 million litres of coconut water over the next five years.

CNPF partnered with GCash, the Philippines’ largest e-wallet, and Hope, an impact organisation founded by Nanette Medved-Po – the wife of CPNF executive chairman, Chris Po – to plant and donate 1 million coconut seedlings to smallholder coconut farmers in Mindanao.

Coconut-not? A multinational's flawed eco plan
Source: Reddit

This initiative aimed to boost the productivity of the farmers’ farms and augment their income, ultimately securing a long-term coconut supply to fulfil the contract’s requirements with Vita Coco.

One of GForest’s main corporate sponsors is CNPF, the company behind Argentina, Century Tuna, 555, Ligo, Swift, UnMeat, and other brands. It is also the local distributor of Vita Coco, a US-based coconut water brand.

Now I feel like I wasted my points on a coconut tree.

Reforestation vs Coconut plantations

Reforestation and creating a coconut plantation both involve planting trees, but they have distinct differences in their goals and ecological impacts.

Reforestation aims to restore natural forests by planting diverse native tree species. This process seeks to rebuild ecosystems, support biodiversity, and provide numerous environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, improved air quality, and stabilisation. The goal is to recreate a natural forest environment that can sustain various plant and animal life, similar to before deforestation.

In contrast, creating a coconut plantation involves planting a single type of tree, typically for commercial purposes. Coconut plantations are usually monocultures, meaning they consist of only coconut trees, which can reduce biodiversity and alter the natural habitat. While they can provide economic benefits by producing coconuts and related products, they do not offer the same ecological benefits as reforestation.

Due to the lack of plant diversity, coconut plantations may not support as wide a range of wildlife. This can sometimes lead to soil degradation and increased vulnerability to pests and diseases.

Truth be told

John Sherwin, founder of Lokalpedia and advocate for food biodiversity, shared his sentiments, saying Gcash should review the true meaning of a forest.

Coconut-not? A multinational's flawed eco plan

“Two million trees of a single species do not constitute a forest; they are man-made plantations, or ‘green deserts,'” Sherwin wrote on his Facebook account.

“What they are doing now is monocropping. Sooner or later, the landscape of Mindanao island will be dominated by coconut plantations. Borneo is already experiencing biodiversity loss due to palm plantations, and now we are repeating the same mistake with coconuts.”

The announcement was also met with ire from other netizens.

Coconut-not? A multinational's flawed eco plan

“This is another toy at protecting nature and climate resiliency where in fact this is once again selfish greed which will benefit their own needs and profit,” shared David D’Angelo.

Coconut-not? A multinational's flawed eco plan

“I don’t get it. Why didn’t they study and consult experts in regard to the biodiversity they plan to plant? Aahhh…kasi may capitalism na ganap (because of capitalism),” added Sheer Astroboy.

Commenting on the issue, Jazz Ong, conservationist and founder of Wildlife Matters, said many people eagerly used the platform (GForoest), believing it would help the environment.

“However, instead of fostering diverse native forests, the collective efforts have merely supported the expansion of another coconut plantation,” she continued. “The world demands genuine ecological rehabilitation, not superficial gestures that fail to address our planet’s complex challenges.”

Coconut-not? 

To be fair, the telecom company is not just offering coconuts on its platform. Users can choose from Mangroves, Narra, Molave, etc. However, recently, I noticed that the app highlights coconut trees front and centre, and there are fewer choices in which trees a user can plant.

Coconut-not? A multinational's flawed eco plan

While GForest’s initiative to incentivise tree planting is commendable, the revelation of its partnership with a coconut plantation project raises concerns about the true impact of these plantings.

Companies like Gcash need to be transparent about the nature of their reforestation initiatives and ensure that ecological benefits are prioritised over commercial interests.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.

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