|Rubber Production Resurges in Central Mindanao|
ALEOSAN, NORTH COTABATO—Rows of rubber trees line the roads of this farming community tucked into the heart of Central Mindanao.
The trees, some of them 60 years old, have witnessed the transformation of this once conflict-affected area into an emerging rubber production hub.
“People planted rubber here as early as the 1950s. Aleosan’s hilly terrain and agro-climatic conditions make it a good location for rubber plantations,” said Lolita Caputolan, barangay chairperson of New Panay, Aleosan.
Caputolan’s father had just started the family’s rubber farm in the 1970s when armed hostilities broke out between two local ethnic groups. After martial law was declared in 1972, life became even more difficult for the family.
“We had to flee to evacuation centers in Libungan and Midsayap. More than once we had to stay away for two to three years,” she recounted.
Every time they returned, however, the family would find their rubber trees in relatively good condition.
“That’s the thing about rubber trees. They are resilient and need minimal care, unlike other crops,” Caputolan pointed out.
As security conditions in the area improved over the years, so did the local economy, as residents focused their efforts on developing their farms—and on realizing income from rubber.
“Domestic demand for rubber continues to grow,” said Caputolan, a member and business adviser of the New Panay Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, whose forty members include former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
According to government data, aggregate rubber production in the Philippines amounted to more than 395,000 metric tons in 2010, with production concentrated in Central and Western Mindanao, particularly in the provinces of North Cotabato, Basilan, and Zamboanga Sibugay.
In 2005-2010, overall rubber production increased by 25 percent in Mindanao, and shot up 50 percent in the Central Mindanao sub-region.
In response to requests for assistance from residents and local government units in North Cotabato, the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) recently partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide training on rubber tapping and bark management to farmers in Aleosan and in the neighboring municipalities of Libungan and Matalam.
The training, which was implemented through USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, is part of USAIDs larger efforts to improve the competitiveness of growers across conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, and to enable former combatants of the MNLF to diversify into higher-value agriculture production.
Caputolan said that the training provided farmers with improved techniques in rubber tapping, including the proper angling and thickness of the cut.
“Even those who have been tapping rubber for more than 20 years learned a lot,” she said. “The training helps put a stop to improper farm practices, such as harvesting from undersized trees.”
In Mindanao, rubber growers sell their coagulated, tapped rubber to traders, consolidators and local processors, who semi-process them into baled latex, crepe sheets or crumb rubber.
The end-users of these semi-processed products include manufacturers of tires, footwear, automotive parts, sporting goods and industrial equipment.
The New Panay cooperative plans to set up a separate marketing and trading arm, Caputolan said.
Cooperative members sell the rubber to traders who go directly to their farms. This situation is expected to change once the cooperative raises sufficient capital to invest in rubber trading.
“The cooperative expects a return on investment of about 20 percent from trading. Using that income, we plan to help more people develop their farms,” said Caputolan.
“Rubber farming has opened windows of opportunity. Now, our children have a bright future ahead of them,” she concludes.
Published in Manila Bulletin, March 23, 2012; The Manila Times, March 22, 2012; Business Mirror, March 22, 2012; www.www.mb.com.ph, March 23, 2012; www.manilatimes.net, March 22, 2012; www.businessmirror.com.ph, March 21, 2012; www.rubbermarketnews.net, March 21, 2012; www.phl.ph, March 21, 2012