Organic farming benefits lumads

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Friday, January 24, 2014


A SHOWCASE of successful organic farming benefiting hundreds of mountain tribes living on ancestral lands can now be found on the cool, graceful slopes of Mt Apo, the country's highest mountain peak.

The rich volcanic soil of the mountain slopes in Sibulan, Toril, Davao City had been eyed by several large banana companies growing the fruit for export considering the higher altitude of this location -- just perfect for growing highland bananas which command better prices in the global market.

"As anyone in the banana business knows, highland bananas have a better texture and taste than those planted on the lowlands,' said lawyer Koronado Apuzan, Farmcoop executive director.

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Farmcoop stands for Foundation for Agrarian Reform Cooperatives in Mindanao, Inc. based in Davao City.

For Farmcoop, with its 21 farmers' cooperatives in Mindanao, it looked like it wouldn't stand any chance of competing with these big banana growers and exporters and their global brands when they were all asked in 2003 to present their proposals formally to the Sibulan barangay council.

"We were also invited as an alternative to the major banana companies to present a proposal. We didn't know what the Sibulan people had in mind, but we presented a proposal for an organic banana plantation," Apuzen said.

Some 2,367 hectares rich agricultural land, out of the total of 8,433 hectares ancestral domain and titled land areas belonging to the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribes in Sibulan, were later set aside as available land area for farming, including 70 hectares for organic farms.

"We just jumped right in with that organic farm proposal -- we still didn't have a very clear idea how it’s going to work,” recalls Apuzen who believed in organic farming so much, that his presentation convinced the tribal council that it was the right plan for their farm land.

Farmcoop at that time wasn't prepared for a full-scale organic farm operation, having little or no capital to do it commercially and no idea how and where to find foreign buyers --- but the council like his proposal and want Farmcoop to manage the project for them.

"We can no longer back out. We have no choice but to accept the challenge," said Apuzen, who thought they'll deal with their little worries later when they were actually running the organic banana farms for them.

Tapping foreign friends who helped Farmcoop in the past, Apuzen was able to get technical assistance from CordAid and Broederlijk Delen in Netherlands and a number of ready buyers of organic bananas in Japan. All these gave Farmcoop’s organic farm project in Sibulan the needed boost to move forward despite a number of missteps, wrong moves and mistakes during the initial phase of project.

Apuzen said the road to success, as expected, was “full of trials and errors” as no one has yet established a sustained, profitable and large scale organic banana plantation in the Davao region before.

Highland and organic fresh Cavendish bananas later found their way in fruit markets of Japan meeting a growing demand for organically grown fruits from Japanese consumers.

Eventually, organic farming was proven not only feasible but also very profitable by Farmcoop working with the mountain farmers of Sibulan Organic Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative or Sobagromco and Pamara Producers Cooperative of Organic Banana Growers or Papcobagrow, both operating in the mountain village of Sibulan.

Apuzen said the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe, like all indigenous people, is concerned about the health of the land as their life, culture and beliefs are all intricately woven in it and its resources.

Encouraged by the success of the highland organic banana project, a tripartite agreement was concluded by the Tribal Council of Sibulan, Farmcoop and the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) a year ago.

Farmcoop was tapped to help set up the agri-industrial-ecological development in the ancestral domain. The development plan includes devoting hundreds of hectares for organic Arabica coffee, cacao, Cavendish banana, abaca, livestock and other staple crops covering 2,367 hectare in Sibulan.

"The Tagabawas of Sibulan want to learn how to make use of the ancestral domain through large scale agricultural activities that will not only benefit the tribe, but also the land, so that it remains fertile for the next generation," Apuzen said.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 25, 2014.

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