SoCot bent on promoting rubber as next big dollar earner

Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes disclosed this morning that a group of Chinese investors have reportedly signified to develop at least 30,000 hectares of rubber plantation in the upland villages of T’boli town within the next two years.

She said Agriculture Sec. Arthur Yap has opened negotiations with the undisclosed Chinese group during a recent trip to China.

“We initially submitted a map of the proposed plantation sites and the response from the interested party was reportedly positive. So we’re expecting that an agreement will be finalized soon as assured to us (by Sec. Yap),” Fuentes said.

As part of the initial preparations for the project, the governor said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is now working for the establishment of a rubber nursery in T’boli.

She said DA earlier sent its technical personnel to the proposed plantation sites to determine the suitability of the area for the planting of rubber and other possible requirements for the development of the rubber plantation.

“The soil, elevation and the area’s weather condition is very much suitable for rubber,” said Fuentes, citing initial technical findings from DA.

Fuentes said the proposed rubber plantation sites are areas not suitable for pineapple and banana, presently the main agricultural products of T’boli.

Rubber tree, scientifically known as Hevea brasiliensis, is a robust, perennial crop and the source of natural rubber. International tire manufacturing companies started the commercial production of rubber in the Philippines in the early 20th century, according to the Rubber Industry Situationer Report released by DA’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service.

Natural rubber is a raw material used in the manufacture of industrial products (conveyor belts, rubber rollers, etc.), automotive products (fan belts, radiator hoses, etc.), latex products (rubber gloves, toys, hygienic products, etc.) and adhesives. The major users of natural rubber are the tire and footwear industries.

The report cited that at least 1.2 million hectares of land in Mindanao are suitable for the planting of rubber.

The island presently has 92,067 hectares of rubber production area, 24 percent or 22,194 hectares of which is in Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao. Most of the region’s production areas are located in Cotabato province.

As its counterpart to the rubber plantation project, Fuentes said the provincial government is currently finalizing its requirements for the commencement of the World Bank-funded Mindanao Rural Development Project Phase II (MRDP2).

“We will be building roads leading to our agricultural production areas when MRDP2 begins by the second half of the year,” she said.

MRDP2, which will run until 2010, will cover the 10 municipalities of South Cotabato. It will initially be implemented in T'boli and Polomolok towns and eventually expand next year in Banga and Norala towns.

The World Bank’s board of directors approved last April a loan package worth US$83.752 million for the national government to jumpstart the implementation of MRDP2.

The program, which is part of a four-phase Adaptable Program Loan (APL), is aimed at improving livelihood opportunities and ensuring food security in more than half of the 422 municipalities in 27 provinces of Mindanao.