SouthCot wants more rubber plantations to woo farmers away from cultivating marijuana

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/5 March) – South Cotabato officials are pushing for the development of additional rubber plantations this year in several upland villages in T’boli town in a bid to provide alternative livelihood for local residents, some of whom had reportedly turned to marijuana cultivation for survival.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said he directed the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist to fast track the expansion of rubber plantations in Barangay Salacafe and neighboring villages in T’boli through a financing partnership earlier forged by the local government with the state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines.

The governor said they have identified portions of Barangay Salacafe, where some P1-million worth of marijuana plants were uprooted last week by local police operatives, as part of the project area.

He said such move was proposed by Senior Supt. Randolf Delfin, South Cotabato Provincial Police Office director, as a counter-measure against the proliferation of marijuana plantations in the area.

Local police personnel destroyed last Feb. 25 close to 4,000 fully-grown marijuana plants and 9,500 seedlings that were recovered in plantations located in Sitios Blo and Culi of Barangay Salacafe.

“Through this project, we’re hoping to eventually lure away our residents there from cultivating marijuana,” Pingoy said.

He said the provincial government signed last year a financing scheme with Land Bank for the establishment of rubber plantations covering 111 hectares in the area.

He said Land Bank had allocated some P10 million for the initiative, which will mainly involve marginalized farmers within the project area.

Reynaldo Legaste, South Cotabato provincial agriculturist, said the T’boli expansion will be patterned after the 127-hectare rubber plantation development project that started last year in Barangay Lamdalag in Lake Sebu town.

He said the Lake Sebu rubber plantation project, which is also supported by Land Bank, is situated within the critical watershed area of Allah River.

“The project was designed to provide alternative livelihood for local farmers and residents and at the same time help reforest and rehabilitate our watersheds,” Legaste said.

Barangay Salacafe in T’boli is the closest village to Mt. Melebengoy (formerly Parker) and critical crater-lake Holon (formerly Maughan), which drains at the Allah River.

The project areas form part of the 102,350-hectare Allah Valley Protected Landscape, which covers four municipalities in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Legaste said the local government is currently promoting the development of rubber plantations in the province due to the area’s suitability and the crop’s rising value in the markets.

“In terms of income, our farmers may potentially earn about P12,000 to P15,000 per hectare by the time the actual production begins on the sixth or seventh year,” he said.

Legaste said the demand for rubber has been increasing steadily that North Cotabato, the area’s top rubber producer, failed to meet the market’s requirements last year.

“Our target right now is to develop around 200 hectares of rubber plantations through the project so we can later open a village-based rubber processing plant,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)