Moro firm starts P100-million banana production in S. Kudarat town with gory past

PALIMBANG, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews / 13 April) – With its significantly improved peace and order condition, a family-owned Moro company has embarked on a multi-million-peso banana plantation venture here, the single largest investment to have been poured in this second-class municipality since its creation in 1959.

Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Map courtesy of Google

MAM Agri Venture Industrial Corp. broke ground late last month in Barangay Baliango. Founded last year, MAM Agri Venture has forged a partnership with Unifrutti Tropical Philippines, Inc., a unit of global fresh produce industry player Unifrutti Group, for the production and marketing of Cavendish or table-dish banana variety.

Engr. Mhar Ulangkaya, MAM Agri Venture chief executive officer, said they are eyeing to develop 250 hectares of banana plantation that will generate at least 350 jobs mostly for the local residents, including women.

“We are the first big-ticket investor here. Palimbang is very different now with its highly improved peace and order condition, unlike before when a mere mention of the town sent shiver or fear to outsiders,” he told MindaNews on Friday.

“We are investing here to help the town and its residents rise from poverty through the jobs and the other economic activities that will be spurred by our investment,” he added.

Palimbang was the scene of one of the most horrific atrocities committed by state forces against the Moro people. In 1974, some 1,500 male Moros were massacred—some ordered to dig their own graves along the shorelines—in what has been infamously known as the Malisbong Massacre, according to published documentations and testimonies of survivors.

The victims were herded inside the mosque in Barangay Malisbong where some of them were shot to death by soldiers, which the victims’ families dubbed as a blatant abuse of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law regime.

But that’s a thing of the past and the town and its people are now moving on, Ulangkaya said, adding that he is hoping that other investors will follow suit.

MAM Agri Venture has sought a P100-million loan from a government bank to finance the initial investment for the banana plantation and related facilities such as a packing plant, he said.

The company broke ground on March 28, the same day that the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade, which is based in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat, also held a groundbreaking ceremony for its headquarters in Barangay San Roque here.

Engr. Mhar Ulangkaya (right), CEO of MAM Agri Venture, with wife Meriam and son Amir, the company’s treasurer and vice president, respectively, at the firm’s headquarters in Barangay Baliango, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat on Friday (9 April 2021). MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto Mangudadatu, Palimbang Mayor Joenemi Kapina, and other local officials also graced MAM Agri Venture’s groundbreaking rites.

During the ceremony, Sobejana lauded the banana venture of the Moro family-owned company, saying it’s a step to sustain peace and foster development in the locality, according to Ulangkaya.

Ulangkaya said they expect to start shipping their fresh banana produce abroad within this year.

Unifrutti, based on the agreement with MAM Agri Venture, will provide technical assistance in banana growing and selling the harvests to markets in Japan, Korea, the United Arab Emirates, China and Israel, he added.

Ulangkaya’s wife Meriam, MAM Agro Venture treasurer, said that table-dish bananas are in great demand in other countries.

“The supply coming from the Philippines is not enough to meet the demand in the foreign markets,” she told MindaNews.

Mrs. Ulangkaya, whose family hails from this municipality, said that besides the MAM Agri Venture, the family is also putting up hardware and grocery stores to cater to the needs of the locals.

(L-R) AFP Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana, Engr. Mhar Ulangkaya, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto Mangudadatu and Maj. Gen Juvymax Uy, 6th Infantry Division commander, pose with the troops on 28 March 2021 in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of MAM Agri Venture Industrial Corp.

Mr. Ulangkaya said their banana venture will be inclusive in terms of hiring workers.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Christians and lumads will have equal chances of employment, he added.

Mayor Kapina urged other investors to put up business in the locality, following the example of the Ulangkaya family.

“Our place is now peaceful and secure. I hope more investors will consider our town for their businesses,” he said.

Apart from the looming transfer of the 603rd Infantry Brigade headquarters here, two units from the 37th and 38th Infantry Battalions have been securing the municipality for years.

“We have put up our investment here because we can now feel that the town is peaceful and safe,” Mr. Ulangkaya said.

For future expansion, he added that the town has the potential to host 3,000 hectares of banana plantation. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)