OIL palm growers who converged Friday at the Davao del Norte Capitol in Tagum City are optimistic that oil palm production would continue to increase in hectarage in Mindanao even as the country is still importing oil palm products from nearby Southeast Asian countries.

CK Chang, president of Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. (PPODCI), said that 10 years ago, the country has only some 20,000 hectares of oil palm trees but at present, it has already 45,000 hectares of it mostly found in Mindanao.

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"But we are still importing oil palm products from Malaysia and Indonesia," he said, as he cited wide-ranging uses of the plant in food industry. Oil palm is an ingredient in products like coffee creamer and instant noodles, among many others.

Increase in oil palm production in Mindanao is expected, he added, as the growing population would continue to appreciate oil palm products and consume more of it.

He said the current production thrust in the opening and expansion of hectarage of oil palm is the organizing of growers as cooperatives and the accessing of financing from Land Bank of the Philippines.

He said that in the statistics of PPODCI, a non-government organization organized by mostly growers in Mindanao, the island has over 35,000 hectares devoted of oil palm trees, while Palawan and Bohol have only 6,500 and 3,500 hectares, respectively.

In Mindanao, Agusan del Sur is the number 1 palm oil producer followed by Sultan Kudarat while “Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley are catching up in production,” Chang said.

In the last two years, average net income of growers is P2,000 per hectare per month while the average buying price ranges P4,000 to P5,000 per ton, he said.

On the other hand, grower and PPODCI director Bembot Espanola of Compostela Valley, urged local government authorities to extend support to oil palm industry even as he described the general lack of support of the National Government to the industry.

He said the industry has been put under the care of Philippine Coconut Authority, which “has not budget to nurture our undertaking.”

“If only all local government units would replicate what the North Cotabato Provincial Government has been doing in its plant-now-pay later program, the oil palm industry would be given a good boost right from the ground,” Espanola added.

He said individual oil palm growers average to have three hectares of oil palm farms and by it “at P5,000 income per hectare he grosses P15,000 per month, which is already sufficient income for his family."