Friday, February 26, 2016

DA’s PRDP eyes empowerment of abaca, pineapple farmers in Bicol
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 25 (PNA) -– The Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) has set its eyes on the empowerment of abaca and pineapple farmers in Bicol through a set of business plans geared towards the establishment of processing plants designed to add value to these indigenous crops.

The Investments in Rural Enterprises and Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity (I-REAP) component of the PRDP is pushing for the approval of these plans — the Php22.4-million Pineapple Trading and Processing Project for Camarines Norte and the Php24.8-million Abaca Fiber Processing and Trading Enterprise for Catanduanes.

These projects are seen to benefit a combined total of 13,559 farmers, rural women and cooperative members in communities of the two provinces which are the region’s leading producers of the crops, Adelina Losa, the component’s head, said in a statement reaching the Philippine News Agency here Thursday.

Camarines Norte is home to the queen Formosa variety, which is touted as the world’s sweetest pineapple for which the province, sitting at the northwestern end of Bicolandia, takes pride, being its only commercial producer. The province accounts for over 90 percent of the region’s supply of the fruit.

Camarines Norte is also the country’s fourth largest producer of pineapple with its 2,400 hectares of farmland whose soil is rich in potassium — the biggest factor contributing to the sweetness of the fruit - distributed among its 12 municipalities, from where an average of 40,000 metric tons of queen pineapple fruits are harvested per cropping cycle of 12 months.

The proposed business enterprise is projected to benefit 299 farmer-owners, 1,330 farm laborers, and 572 processors, laborers and workers on its first year of implementation alone.

It also aims an increase of Php2,600 in the monthly rate of workers engaged in the processing and trading of pineapple in the province.

What the cooperative needs from DA-PRDP is assistance in providing the additional equipment, building and logistics necessary to meet the market’s demand, Losa said.

The Abaca Fiber Processing and Trading Enterprise project, on the other hand, is expected to benefit most of the nearly 15,500 Catanduanes farmers mainly relying on the province’s 35,500 hectares of abaca plantations that produce a average of 19,000 metric tons of fiber, representing 33.2 percent of the total national annual production.

This makes abaca the province’s backbone industry that has made the island, known as the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean -- making it highly exposed to tropical cyclones hitting the country’s eastern seaboard, a prized contributor to country’s fiber export earnings reaching about USD 120 million yearly.

The proponent of the abaca project is the Pinoy Lingap-Damayan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PLDMC) which started its dry-run operations of the processing and trading enterprise in Viga, Catanduanes, generating a positive response from the island’s abaca community.

Losa said the project aims to provide an incentive markup as well as productivity bonus worth Php1.00 for every kilogram of fiber sold to the cooperative, an intention that is projected to increase farmers’ income.

Though the PDRP, she said, the PLDMC aims to be a major player in the local abaca industry in Catanduanes which could change the local economic landscape as it will break the monopoly of abaca fiber trading by influential and wealthy local businessmen.

Wellington Flores, planning officer of the regional Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) office in Bicol, said the cooperative’s marketing strategy will open the abaca farmers’ horizon to buyers.

“This is a good investment because abaca farmers will have fixed buyers and fixed source of income. It will bring the true price of abaca fiber to the farmers whose majority lives below poverty level,” Flores said.

The establishment of abaca processing plants in Catanduanes is a development long-been sought by the province to add value to the crop that has given the island the glory of being its top producer in the country.

Called a smart crop owing to abaca plants’ resistance to typhoons and drought, it serves as the top agricultural commodity that keeps the island’s local economy alive from the farm gate down to traders’ receipts -- providing stable employment, livelihood and business opportunities leading to the province’s lower poverty rate compared to other Bicol areas.

Losa said both business plans for pineapple and abaca in the region submitted for funding support by the PDRP are aligned with the government’s goal of inclusive growth and the Project’s development objectives.

The business plans, she added, meet PRDP’s objectives of at least five percent increase in household incomes of farmers, seven-percent increase in value of annual marketed outputs, and 30- percent increase in incomes for targeted beneficiaries engaged in enterprise development, making their approval necessary, she added. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/RSM