Farmers in conflict-affected area pin hope on rubber
By Noel T. Provido
Davao City (19 October) -- Using rubber can cast the church's ire; put planting it would be fine especially in conflict-affected areas.
Farmers in Bagolibas, Aleosan, North Cotabato are now planting permanent crops particularly rubber as it can give them sustainable income even in times of atrocities.
Ireneo Cagud, president of Bagolibas Free Farmers Association said they are used to plant rice and corn as they are highly suited in their area and local demand for these crops are high as well. However, man-made calamities usually take its toll on their farm production and family income.
"Every time atrocities arise in our community, we are forced to evacuate on safer grounds leaving behind our farms and produce. Since rice and corn are basic staples, our produce are usually stolen by lawless elements attacking our area," he said.
When the situation calms down, Cagud said they are left empty handed as most of them are robbed with their farm produce. What makes the situation even worst is the need to overcome the huge debt they have acquired in buying seeds and farm inputs during the previous cropping season.
"We have to resort to acquiring more debts with huge interest otherwise we cannot plant in the succeeding cropping season," he said.
Cagud observed that while majority of his fellow farmers suffered the same fate, those farmers tending rubber trees experienced otherwise. They no longer need to rehabilitate their farms as their rubber trees remained undisturbed and continue to produce latex that gives them continuous income.
Unlike other crops which are highly perishables, rubber has very long shelf life. When atrocities strike anew in their community, rubber farmers just stored rubber cup lumps underground. After evacuating, farmers retrieved their produce underground and sold it their usual buyers as its quality remains.
More than safekeeping, rubber offers huge potentials. According to the Department of Agriculture (DA), there is an increasing domestic and global demand for natural rubber as it is more durable, adhesive, and impermeable. Popular products derived form natural rubber include automobile cars, rubbers shoes, and medical products such as surgical gloves.
"One farmer here (Bagolibas) is now earning at least P6,000 pesos per month out of his 120 trees planted only in a half-hectare farm. As his trees will mature, it is expected that he will be earning more," Cagud said.
The positive experiences of rubber farmers in their community served as their benchmark on how to make farming more sustainable. However, despite seeing the lucrative opportunities in rubber farming, Cagud and other members of their association has no substantial financial resource to engage in rubber production.
After learning that the Department of Agriculture-Mindanao Rural Development Program (DA-MRDP) is providing livelihood assistance to farming communities, their association with the help of their municipal government prepared the requirements and accessed funds from the program.
Since rubber is a long-gestating crop, the farmers' association opted for rubber-based farming system particularly rubber-banana intercrop with goat.
"It will take six years for rubber to be productive, so we also planted lakatan banana which will take only a year to bear fruit. We are also raising goats since it multiply fast and easy to market," he said.
MRDP program director Lealyn Ramos said rubber had been identified as priority crop for Mindanao since the island region is the country's major producers with North Cotabato and Zamboanga Sibugay taking the lead.
"Rubber-based farming system is ideal for MRDP beneficiaries who are usually small land holders as they can maximize the use of their land. Planting rubber simultaneously with high-value crops plus raising small ruminants during the early years is advised for farmers to have viable income while waiting for the big bang," Ramos said.
"Rubber production had been intensified not only in increasing farmers' income but also in promoting sustainable farming. Rubber farming limits the tilling of land to prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss," she said.
Although residing in a community with a volatile peace and order situation bothers them, Cagud said they can still kook forward to better opportunities ahead as rubber production can provide them steady income in the coming years.
"We cannot abandon our lands as it is the only asset we have. With rubber as a crop we are confident that even when situation dictate us to temporarily evacuate our farms we can always go back to harvest what is permanently in stored for us," he said. (PIA) [top]