Feature: Technology intervention adds value to Bukidnon coop's rubber products
by Tess Superioridad Baluyos
Cagayan de Oro City (25 May) -- Members' commitment?good management?support systems?technology intervention?all these contribute to the sustainability and success of one cooperative in Talakag, Bukidnon.
The First Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (FARBECO) is to date, the only existing cooperative in Talakag, Bukidnon. How the cooperative tide over the challenges is something other cooperatives can learn from.
FARBECO was born in 1989, shortly after Menzi Development Corporation, due to the severe economic crises, gave up part of its 753-hectare rubber plantation in Talakag, Bukidnon. Thus, what was once a sprawling, privately-owned rubber plantation is now managed and owned by former workers and employees.
When it started its operation, FARBECO used to produce three forms of raw rubber; concentrated latex, cup lumps and field coagulum.
Latex is the milky-white liquid which flows from the rubber tree, hevea brasiliences, when it is tapped. Using a sharp knife with a curved blade, the tapper cuts a narrow groove in the tree's bark about five feet from the ground. The groove slants down and goes about half-way around the tree. The tapper sticks a V-shaped metal spout in the lower end of the cut and hangs a small cup under the spout.
Once the groove has been cut, the latex begins to ooze out. Drop by drops it is caught by the spout which leads into the cup. The tapper goes on to the next tree and does the same again.
In one day, a worker taps about 500 trees. When all these trees are tapped, the tapper makes a second round. At each tree, he gathers about a cupful of latex. The collected latex is then brought to the rubber mill station situated at the center of the rubber plantation. The residual latex that coagulates on the collection cups is known as cup lumps.
Latex allowed to coagulate in soaking tanks of which acid is added becomes coagulum?the paper-white, spongy, one-cubic foot blocks, that look like giant tokwa.
During its early years of operations, FARBECO used to sell cup lumps and coagulum but these rubber products were bought at low price.
When FARBECO assumed ownership of the rubber plantation, some of the rubber trees were already old. They then sought the assistance of Department of Science and Technology on how to go about converting those cut old trees into another business venture. Two cooperative members were trained at the DOST's Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) in Los Banos, Laguna, to operate a lumber kiln dryer. The kiln dryer, however, did not last long, due to problems in the wood industry. The members then decided to try processing the raw rubber latex and cup lumps into crepe rubber sheets.
At that time, crepe rubber sheets were sold at P35-P37/kg, while raw latex was sold at P9-11/kg. Seeing the potential of going into crepe rubber processing for higher price, FARBECO again sought the assistance of DOST in region 10. Thus, training and seminars on rubber processing were conducted. In 1997, DOST 10 extended to FARBECO assistance for the construction of the crepe rubber smoke house (tunnel-type dryers).
The construction of the smoke house was followed by another assistance from DOST, this time, from the Technology Application and Promotion Institute (TAPI). Through its Venture Financing Program, TAPI extended assistance to FARBECO for the purchase and installation of three units macerator machines (rollers/creepers). On November 6, 1998, FARBECO's crepe rubber processing facility was formally inaugurated.
Today, the cooperative is into full commercial scale crepe rubber production. Its 133-hectare production area produces an average of 1,300 kg. latex/day, which when dried, results to about 500-600 kg. good-quality pale crepe. The crepe rubber sheets are sold direct to its contract buyer in Bulacan at P75/kg.
The rubber plant produces a monthly average of 17,000 kg. which is below the capacity of the processing plant. The demand is about 25,000 kg. dried rubber sheets per month. The management, though, has a solution to address this by planning to buy raw rubber (cum lumps) from other rubber planters in the neighboring places.
FARBECO employs 60 coop members of which nine (9) are assigned at the rubber plant and 51 are working in the operations area/office.
The 209-member FARBECO is a close cooperative, meaning, membership cannot be transferred and new ones are not accepted except when a member dies and the spouse or an heir is taken in (which is why the formerly all-male coop now has female members).
FARBECO members look forward to the time when their financial responsibilities with Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) are fully paid, and that would be five years from now. They would then have wider freedom to venture into other business opportunities. This early, the cooperative is being offered by LBP with a P2 million loan which the cooperative can use for the planned micro-financing venture. They are also expanding their rubber tree plantation.
FARBECO continues to be positive in its ventures. After 20 years of existence, it stays solid. In fact, come December 2010, all members expect another yearly dividend.
The cooperative officers and members also acknowledge the support given by the DOST and its member-agencies like TAPI and FPRDI. The technology assistance from DOST made a difference in making their dreams and aspirations a reality.
FARBECO members are set to move ahead and to prove that FARBECO is one cooperative worth-emulating. They won't stop dreaming? as there are more dreams to fulfill. And with the solid commitment from its members, and the sincere leadership of its Board of Directors, there is no reason why they could not fulfill their dreams.
And DOST is ready to extend more technology intervention that FARBECO needs? and that assistance is in the pipeline. (DOST) [top]