CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 May) – Tonyo and the rest of the 400 farmers engaged in vegetable farming along Iponan River have been fighting a losing battle since gold was found along its riverbanks years ago.
“How can my vegetables grow well? The river is heavily silted,” Tonyo said in the vernacular.
Scooping a handful of soil from his small farm in Barangay Baikingon, this city, Tonyo could only shake his head in despair.
“Look at this. It is not even the rich soil. This is sand,” he said.
Like other farmers making a living in the banks of Iponan River, Tonyo has seen their profits gone down and the size of their farms going smaller every year.
“We need to spend more for fertilizers otherwise our vegetables will not grow well,” he said.
Yet despite their anger against hydraulic mining, Tonyo and the farmers would only engage local journalists in hush-hush conversations against the operators whom they believed have good connections with the government.
For instance, Tonyo is not his real name. He only agreed to be interviewed on condition that he would not be identified.
Despite his fear, he guided this reporter to a barge that capsized after a flash flood inundated Iponan River early this month.
Pointing to the barge that lay on its side along Iponan River in Barangay Baikingon, Tonyo said the boat was constructed sometime in March 2012.
“It came in four container vans and its foreign owners hired some local people to assemble it right her. It took them a week to assemble this barge,” he narrated.
He could not identify the nationality of the foreigners but a GMA 7 Northern Mindanao team managed to videotape their operations and identified them as Koreans.
The GMA7 news report said the foreigners were not able to show any business or government permit allowing them to quarry or dredge along Iponan River.
The TV crew who aired the news report was threatened by a barangay official in Barangay Tuburan, a village upstream in Iponan River.
Iponan River is known to have deposits of gold and has been the cause of major disagreements between local environmentalists, the religious sector and local officials of Cagayan de Oro.
The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Northern Mindanao has issued an order stopping all hydraulic mining along the river.
But the order remains unheeded. Local environmentalist said hydraulic mining goes on unabated along the river. They also said the gold has attracted foreign investors who use barges to dredge the river for gold.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of the Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese has accused city officials of not doing anything against the mining operations despite overwhelming evidence of its effects.
Roldan Maglungsod, president of Baikingon Farmers Association said heavy siltation has affected 400 farmers engaged in vegetable farming along Iponan River.
He said heavy siltation has rendered two irrigation canals along the river “useless.”
“We used to be able to project our investments but now we can no longer do that. The river gets flooded every year making our investments useless,” he said.
Maglungsod said the farms produced assorted vegetables like sitao, squash, ampalaya (bitter gourd), eggplants, okra, and pechay, making Baikingon the vegetable center of Cagayan de Oro.
“Our produce stabilizes the vegetable prices because we compete with the growers from Bukidnon,” he said.
He warned however that Cagayan de Oro will eventually lose its edge as producer of cheap vegetables if fertilizers will spike the cost of production. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)