Water hyacinth venture of ‘reformers’ brings livelihood, peace

PIGCAWAYAN, NORTH COTABATO (MindaNews/12 June)—True to their faith, a couple in this rustic first-class town has proven their worth as the “reformers.”

They live ordinary lives, a hint of affluent lifestyle glaringly absent as they go on with their daily routine Barangay Capayuran, a farming village.

Meet Remegio and Julie Matalubos, the husband-and-wife tandem who has been driving conflict-affected communities in the fringes of Ligawasan Marsh to bolt in for peace. And through an ingenious way—by turning the menacing water hyacinths into organic fertilizers.

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Water hyacinth is a major headache in Southwestern Mindanao and in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  An estimated 20 hectares of water hyacinth accumulated last year along the Rio Grande de Mindanao, causing massive flooding in Cotabato City and the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao. The floods sent tens of thousands of people to evacuation centers with agricultural damage estimated to be at least P332 million.

For the couple, however, water hyacinths should not be considered a curse but a source of hope to alleviate poverty and help establish peace in conflict-affected communities.

Both members of the Seventh Day Adventists, they run the Grassroots Integral Development Initiative (GIDI) Natural Organic Fertilizer as part of their missionary works in the area.

Describing themselves as “reformers,” Mr. Matalubos said their venture involves the participation of rebels belonging to either the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the Moro National Liberation Front.

“We coordinate with the commanders of both groups to gather water hyacinths in the Ligawasan Marsh. In fact, some of the laborers are Moro rebels,” he said.

NO CHEMICALS. Remegio P. Matalubos explains how they produce organic fertilizer with water hyacinth as the main ingredient. MindaNews photo by Bong S. Sarmiento

GIDI sources the water hyacinths from at least seven communities within Ligawasan Marsh in the portions of the towns of Pigcawayan and Midsayap.

“It’s a big help to the community. It brings not only productivity but also unity among the residents,” Mr. Matalubos said.

Zayda Indayla, one of the suppliers of water hyacinths, hailed GIDI as a social enterprise that augurs well for the community, having involved husbands and wives and their children.

“It tremendously helped in making the communities peaceful. There’s not much trouble because people earn incomes,” Indayla said, noting that theft or robbery has also been reduced because residents have become productive.

GIDI’s organic venture also benefits the differently-abled persons as they are hired in the production of water hyacinths, said Ms. Indayla, whose husband is a soldier.

Children as young as 12 years old, with the consent of their parents, are also involved in the water hyacinth production chain.

“They seem to enjoy gathering the water hyacinths in the marsh. To them it’s like playing because they also swim,” she said.

A dried water hyacinth fetches P60 per sack.

Water hyacinth is the major component (about 60 to 70 percent) of the organic fertilizer that GIDI produces. It is mixed with other organic materials like guano and phosphate rocks.

Those other ingredients are also abundant in North Cotabato, said Mr. Matalubos, noting the reserves have largely remained untapped for a century.

There are seventeen caves in the province, and we have only tapped three caves where we can get 200 bags from each daily, he said.

GIDI Natural Organic Fertilizer is a high-grade natural organic fertilizer made up of water hyacinth compost and century-old guano mined from the caves, a product briefer said.

It has high organic matter contents capable of supplying complete nutrients needed by a plant, it added.

The briefer also noted that besides giving long lasting nourishment to the plant, it improves the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil.

GIDI sells the water hyacinth organic fertilizers for P250 per bag.

Mr. Matalubos, who formulated the mixture, said their main buyers so far are banana and sugar plantations operating in different provinces in Mindanao.

Its production plant is capable of producing at least 10,000 bags of organic fertilizers from water hyacinth a month.

The government, through the Department of Science and Technology, has extended technical and financial assistance to enhance the operation of GIDI.

Using the water hyacinth organic fertilizers, GIDI also embarks on vermicomposting, which it sells at a much higher price of up to P400 per sack.

Mr. Matalubos said they are happy that they have become an instrument of peace even in just some conflict-affected communities in North Cotabato.

With the continued support from the communities and demand from the market, he expressed optimism on the sustainability of the venture.

And perhaps, GIDI’s venture, once replicated by others, may just be the answer in solving the water hyacinth menace that had submerged many communities in the region in floodwaters in the past. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)