BASILAN ISLAND (Uly Israel / 23 Nov) – The United Workers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative on Thursday appealed to the government and foreign donor countries for funding to help farmers rehabilitate dilapidated processing plant and rubber plantations on Basilan island in the southern Philippines.
Pedro Quistadio, Jr., chairman of the cooperative’s board, said it would require about P35 million to rehabilitate the old processing plant and another P70 million for the rubber plantations.
He said since the processing plant of the defunct Menzi Agricultural Corp. was turned over to the agrarian reform beneficiaries in April 28, 2003, it has remained in its old condition.
"The processing plant is currently operating in its 60 percent capacity and production costs have gone up. We really want to upgrade our plant, but we cannot afford it right now since it would cost about P35 million to rehabilitate it," Quistadio told the Mindanao Examiner.
The cooperative also must replant rubber trees to replace the matured ones. He said 40 percent of their stock of rubber trees are "over matured" with ages from 38 years old and above.
“That's why the coop's production has also decreased by 45 percent. About 300 to 400 hectares are due for replanting and the cost of replanting would be about P70-P80 million. We can only afford 20 percent of the required replanting and development," he said.
He said they are now looking into possible sources of credit to finance its rehabilitation projects, Quistadio said, adding, the cooperative prefers international financing institution to provide soft loans.
Isabela City has 45 villages and 17 of these are rubber-producing areas, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Basilan. The total area planted to rubber is approximately 2,459-ha and 57 percent or about 1,400-ha are considered productive.
Isabela City produces an average of 183,501 kilos of rubber every month, DTI said.
DTI records also showed that the two leading villages host the plantations of the two Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs) in Isabela -- the Latuan Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. or LARBAI in Baluno and UWARDBMPC in Cabunbata.
Isabela’s rubber production is often shipped as cup lumps or in its semi-processed form because it lacks manufacturing plants to process rubber and turn them into finished products.
Reymundo Peña, officer-in-charge of the DTI in Isabela City, said: “While the current peace and order condition is good, the unstable and very costly power supply remains the biggest factor that delays the entry of manufacturing plants."
The supply of rubber clones and seedlings is not a problem for farmers, but they always complain about the high cost of shipping fertilizer and pest control chemicals.
“The farmers get their fertilizer needs and processing supplies from Zamboanga City and the cost of freight can be considered as prohibitive compared to when one purchases supplies from Manila," he said, adding, that local officials can seek the help of the national government to help them with this problem.
“Our business sector, especially the manufacturing can never be competitive because of the high cost of freight and electricity in Basilan,” he said. “The local economy can greatly benefit from its rich resources if processing plants could be set up here. It would create more jobs and more revenues,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)