Thesis Submission

I am happy to have finally wrapped up my research and submitted my thesis. The last few months have been extremely enjoyable and beneficial. Although we are all disappointed to have missed out on an opportunity to do our research projects abroad I can still safely say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire process.

I would like to thank my supervisors from Nuig and CIAT, Prof. Charlie Spillane, Dr. Peter C. McKeown and Dr. Tiffany Talsma. The support that I have received from each of you has been second to none and I appreciate every contribution that was made to my work.

I hope that my work can be of some use to CIAT and help them to move forward with their project on scaling cacao-coconut intercrop in the Philippines. I hope to one day visit the Philippines to get a proper experience of the beautiful country which I have spent so long researching.

Analytical Framework

For my thesis we decided to use a framework in order to analyse our data against. The “hanging- in, stepping-up, stepping-out” theory is a useful analytical framework to look at the factors surrounding the land-livelihood nexus of coconut farmers in the Philippines (Pritchard et al., 2017).

There are two basic propositions that help to set the analysis. The first proposition is that people aim to maintain their livelihood situation, and also aim to develop it through the assets and activities which they are involved with. The second proposition is that people can try to expand their existing activities and aim to move into new activities also. Taking these propositions into account Dorward explains how we can then look at three different types of livelihood strategies, “Hanging-in, Stepping-up and Stepping-out”.

“Hanging in” describes how households and individuals engage in the same activities and work with the same assets in order to maintain the livelihood that they have already formed. “Stepping-up” introduces the idea that individuals make investments in their assets in order to expand activities. “Stepping-out” looks at the possibility of engaging in existing activities in order to accumulate assets which in turn could help to lead to individuals involving themselves in new activities, which need some investment requirements to start off (Dorward et al., 2009).


Pritchard, B., Vicol, M., & Jones, R. (2017). How does the ownership of land affect household livelihood pathways under conditions of deagrarianization? ‘Hanging in’, ‘stepping up’ and ‘stepping out’ in two north Indian villages. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 38(1), 41–57.

Dorward, A., Anderson, S., Bernal, Y. N., Vera, E. S., Rushton, J., Pattison, J., & Paz, R. (2009). Hanging in, stepping up and stepping out: Livelihood aspirations and strategies of the poor. Development in Practice, 19(2), 240–247.

Poverty alleviation

The focus of my thesis was to understand the factors that enable Filipino farmers to enter, stagnate or thrive, or exit from coconut production. In order to do this we first needed to understand the situation that coconut farmers are subject to. By undertaking a questionnaire we could look at different aspects of the coconut industry in the Philippines from the perspective of different coconut experts.

With support from my supervisors I developed a questionnaire targeting coconut industry experts. The questionnaire consisted of 46 questions and incorporated key areas such as migration, diversification, system services, and waste management. Ten different respondents gave their opinions and experiences to the mixture of open ended questions and ranked questions.

Before undertaking the questionnaire we were familiar with the situation that exists in the Philippines, from undertaking a literature review prior to our research. We were aware that poverty was rampant in coconut producing areas and that there was work to be done in order to alleviate poverty among households. Responses from the questionnaire aided our research as we could visualise trends and being to understand what factors persuaded farmers to continue producing coconuts when they receive very little in return for their work.

The video below gives a basic introduction to the situation that coconut farmers in the Philippines face and actions required to alleviate poverty in the country.

Source: NAPC Communications

Coconut production in the Philippines

The coconut tree is one of the most useful palms in the world, as every part of the tree can be used to make something. For this reason, the coconut tree is named “The Tree of Life”(Gurbuz & Manaros, 2019). In the Philippines, coconut production is very common due to the importance that the coconut tree has in contributing to income for many households. Coconut products are the main exporting agricultural commodity in the Philippines, with coconut oil being the main product that is derived from the crop.

As a result of this, the Philippines is the second largest coconut producing country in the world, with over 3.5 million producers relying on the crop for food and income (Gurbuz & Manaros, 2019), and a further 25 millions working in coconut-based enterprises. Over 90% of farmers are smallholders, meaning that they own 4 hectares or less while many others work on land that they do not own (Batugal et al., 2008). Most coconut farmers live below the poverty line and as a result are subject to a hard life.

Image source:


 Gurbuz, I. B., & Manaros, M. (2019). Impact of Coconut Production on the Environment and the Problems Faced By Coconut Producers in Lanao Del Norte Province, Philippines. Scientific Papers-Series Management Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development, 19(3), 235–246.

Batugal, P., Manohar, E. and George, M.L., 2008. Good Practice for Poverty Reduction in Coconut Growing Communities in the Philippines. REDUCTION, p.181.


My research will be done in conjunction with CIAT – the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, based in Hanoi, Vietnam. During my allocated research time I hope to gain an insight into different coconut producers and farming systems in the Philippines. In particular I hope to understand more about what conditions cause farmers to move into, stagnate, thrive and move out of coconut production.

CIAT are working on developing their own project on scaling cacao-coconut intercrop. The work that I undertake over the course of my research project will not only be used for my own academic grading, but it will also go towards the development of a 400 household questionnaire targeting coconut producers which will be carried out by CIAT colleagues.

Working with a team of experienced researchers is something that excites me and I hope to learn lots in the months ahead. Desk research is not what I first imagined myself being involved in but I have developed a newly evoked motivation to learn new skills through this research method and I hope to become more knowledgeable in this area as a result.

Research from home

Hi all , welcome to my blog! Its been a crazy few weeks and not at all the start we were anticipating for our MSc CCAFS Research Projects. Due to the global outbreak of Covid-19 and the current travel restrictions that are in place I will be joining you from my home in the midlands of Ireland. From here I will keep you updated on my research project, which will be done in conjunction with CIAT, based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

It is extremely unfortunate that we will not be able to undertake the travel component of our module and get some first hand experience in our chosen topic, however putting this aside I am looking forward to working with a team of experts from CIAT, gaining knowledge and experience in my chosen area and also spending some quality time with my family during the busy farming season at home!!