Palawan has so much potential to become a big producer of agricultural products. Aside from beautiful beaches, verdant mountains, abundant marine and mineral resources, it is blessed with vast track of lands waiting to be developed.
The southern part of Palawan is endowed with rich soil suited for big-ticket agricultural projects that could provide food security in the entire province.
With the fast-paced infrastructure developments in the province focusing on road construction, ports and seaports, the agriculture sector is in the best position to advance and grow given the necessary financial and technical support.
The town of Bataraza, located in the southernmost part of Palawan, is becoming the center of major economic development. The Buliluyan Port that serves as the “gateway” to BIMP-EAGA (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines- East Asian Growth Area) will be the transit point for the movement of people, goods, and services to and from BIMP-EAGA port destinations.
With these being put in place including the 6-lane road project, expect that in few years the “economic boom” within the area will take place.
Mining companies that are operating in this part of the province must also play an active stance by introducing sustainable livelihood projects among its communities. It can never be spectator of the economic activities happening in this part of Palawan.
Big ticket projects that create opportunities to the people and will sustain the source of income are great legacies of the industry after the mine.
Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), a company that operates a Hydrometallurgical Processing Plant (HPP) in Bgy. Rio Tuba, Bataraza, and Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) have come to consensus to take full swing in the implementation of its livelihood programs and projects. Aside from the existing community livelihoods, agriculture-based initiatives have already taken place.
The vast track of lands in Bgy. Rio Tuba and other barangays of Bataraza that used to be idle are being utilized for coffee and ginger plantation which have ready market in partnership with an organization that supports the initiatives of local communities.
The Community Relations (ComRel) Departments of each company have organized the people in different barangays of Bataraza into cooperatives. Currently there are eight cooperatives organized namely: Ocayan Farmers Producers Cooperative (OFAPCO), Iwahig Farmers Producers Cooperative (IFAPCO), Sandoval Farmers Producers Cooperative (SANFAPCO), Igang-Igang Producers Cooperative (IPCO), Sapa Farmers Producers Cooperative (SFPC), Taratak Agri-Based Producers Cooperative (TABAPCO), and Tarusan Farmers Producers Cooperative (TAFPCO). These cooperatives are under the umbrella of Southern Palawan Federation of Farmers Cooperative (SOPAFFCO).
The coffee and ginger blend
Contrary to the beliefs of many, the soil surrounding the mine are suitable for farming particularly on high value crops. Soil analysis conducted by a third-party organization revealed that the condition of the area is fit for agriculture.
Reynaldo dela Rosa, Community Relations Manager of RTNMC, said that they made sure that there is a ready market considering the volume of coffee beans they will produce.
RTNMC and CBNC in partnership with the cooperatives have started its 200 hectares coffee plantation four years ago. Later they realized that members of the cooperatives started to loss to interest to the project because they do not earn enough to support the needs of the family.
“Isa sa major factor kaya napabayaan ang coffee kasi naghahanap sila ng livelihood, ang mga farmers. So kung makakakita kami ng livelihood na cash crop na within three months o six months ay pera na kaagad hindi nila mapabayaan ang coffee. Kaya ang strategy namin para hindi mapabayaan ang coffee ano ang pwede pang itanim sa pagitan ng mga coffee,” said dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa went around in Luzon to look for other possible livelihood that could immediately provide income to the farmers and so he met the owner of an export-import company whose passion is to help farmers to grow economically. Aside from coffee that is already planted in 200 hectares land area located in 12 different locations, ginger was introduced to the community as additional source of income.
“Naghanap kami ng market oriented na livelihood. Na introduce naman tayo sa organization na ito pero gusto nila ay export at dapat organic para competitive sa export,” dela Rosa added.
The companies have forged an agreement with SOPAFFCO and the partner organization for the marketing of farm produce particularly ginger, coffee and other agricultural products that will be grown in the area being developed by the cooperatives.
The technology and technology-transfer to the farmers of Bataraza engage in ginger plantation are being provided.
In consultation with the members of the cooperatives, the companies are extending assistance from planting to marketing of ginger to the farmers. RTNMC and CBNC purchased the seeds through their Social Development and Management Program (SDMP) fund.
“Parang dispersal system naman next year para mas maraming member ng coop ang makikinabang,” said dela Rosa.
“Hawaiian ginger” is the variety planted in a more than 25 hectares located in different areas in Bataraza and being grown together with coffee by members of the cooperatives.
Ginger is thriving under the 200-hectare coffee plantation located in different areas in Bataraza.
A visit to the actual plantation site revealed that coffee trees are starting to bear fruits and growing healthily. It is expected that in February 2018 they will harvest coffee beans and will require additional facilities to preserve or process it into final product.
Maimona Jumaani, chairperson of Taratak Agri-based Producers’ Cooperative (TABAPCO), has 69 members mostly composed of women. She was very enthusiastic in narrating her experiences as the leader of the group and her aspirations of the project.
Maimona proudly showed their coffee and ginger plantation. As she tends to her plants, gently pulling the weeds, she told us that the project is helping a lot of families particularly the women.
“Hindi lahat nakakapag-trabaho sa kompanya kaya maganda at may livelihood project kami kasi may kikitain kami,” said Maimona.
She treasures the opportunity that is in their hands as she sees a brighter future not only for her but for the children in the community.
“Pang-habambuhay na po ito. Sabi nila na 100 taon daw ang kape kaya hindi lang ako ang makikinabang kung hindi ang mga kaapo-apohan na namin,” she added.
TABAPCO maintains 22 hectares of coffee plantation and in between is the 3-hectare ginger plantation that are thriving well in the area. The area is being lent by the barangay to the cooperative.
In December the cooperatives will start harvesting the ginger and portion of it shall be set aside for distribution to other farmers in the community.
RTNMC and CBNC envision to bring in high impact livelihood project to the community believing that this the best legacy the industry could give after its operation in the area.
Aside from the infrastructure support, health services, educational assistance which are all in place and continuing in the community, both company are trying to shift its direction in terms of livelihood.
Recognizing that minerals are finite resource, the industry will definitely cease its operation. RTNMC and CBNC have put upon themselves the responsibility to ensure that the people in the community will become self-sustaining and still enjoy the quality of life in the future as today.
“Dapat maging independent talaga sila. With or without mining kikita sila. Kaya ang target namin ay market oriented na mga livelihood program. Walang ibang maiiwan na project na may impact sa community maliban sa livelihood and education,” said dela Rosa.
With the opening of Buliluyan Port in Bataraza, the mining communities being assisted by RTNMC and CBNC will be a “show window” for tourists and everybody coming in and out of Palawan and having these projects will surely boost the business initiatives in the area.
According to dela Rosa, they dream to include the community in the active exchange of products.
Aside from coffee and ginger plantation, shallots and garlic will soon take place.