Organic farming benefits lumads

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.

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
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