NorthCot pushes rubber industry dev’t

KABACAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/22 August) – The North Cotabato provincial government is pushing for the development of the rubber industry not only as an economic driver but also as a measure to mitigate the impact of climate change in the area.

This developed as rubber buying price plunged to P36 per kilo, with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and traders denying that a cartel was behind the downtrend.

Gov. Emmylou Mendoza said during the Regional Rubber Forum last Monday that the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist will extend quality control and provide rubber farmers and tappers with the right technology as support to the local rubber industry.

She said that rubber cultivation will also be part of the implementation in the province of the National Greening Program, the nationwide flagship reforestation project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to address climate change.

North Cotabato is the country’s second largest rubber producer, next to Zamboanga Sibugay, with a rubber plantation area of at least 55,000 hectares.

The Regional Rubber Forum was conducted at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan town as part of the Kalivungan Festival in celebration of the province’s 99th foundation anniversary on September 1.

During the forum, some stakeholders denied the existence of a cartel that reportedly manipulated the price of rubber products in the province.

Last month, Boy Ambal, a leader of the Free Tappers Association in the province, reportedly said that a cartel is “controlling” the rubber prices in the area.

Denying the existence of a cartel, Anthony Bravo, DTI provincial director, said that the prevailing buying price of cup lumps has dropped to P36 per kilo in July from P50.51 on February, the highest buying price for this year.

He added that the lowest rubber buying price in the province was P19.23 per kilo in December 2008.

Bonifacio Tan, chief executive officer of Farma Rubber Industries, blamed the declining prices of rubber to the global market trend.

He cited the economic slowdown in the United States, Europe and even China that resulted to the reduced buying of rubber products from Asian markets.

Tan also blamed the big players in the industry, particularly from China, as behind the plunging rubber prices as they allegedly hoard rubber supplies while waiting for prices to go up.

China, according to him, is the number one rubber-consuming country in the world.

“It’s still the law of demand of supply,” Tan pointed out before the forum attended by members of the academe, farmers, local government officials, representatives of concerned government agencies and traders.

Farma Rubber, which has a processing plant in Makilala town, buys rubber cup lumps from local farmers.

Tan hinted that the poor quality of natural rubber products is also a factor in the fluctuation of buying prices.

Jack Sandique, president of Platinum Rubber Development Inc., dismissed reports comparing the buying price between Philippines and Thailand.

He said the P80 per kilogram rate in Thailand is for dry rubber while the P36/kg rate in the province is for wet rubber.

Mendoza asked the DTI if it can regulate the buying price of rubber in the province.

But Sitti Amina Jain, DTI’s national rubber industry cluster manager, admitted that the agency cannot regulate the buying price of rubber because it is dictated by the international market.

Mendoza said farmers should produce quality rubber cup lumps so that their products could fetch good market prices.

“The problem is that some farmers sell bad quality cup lumps. They mix some inappropriate materials to make their products heavier but at the end it degrades the quality,” she said.

Instead of latex acid, Mendoza said some farmers add used battery dry cell additives to their rubber products.

The Philippines has been competing with Indonesia and Thailand in rubber production although the country’s production is said to be inferior compared to the two.

Owing to this, Farma Rubber’s Tan urged the creation of a Philippine Rubber Board that will help local farmers compete in the global market.

Data from the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist showed that there are 13,531 rubber farmers in the province with a total area of 55,155 hectares.

Matalam town has the largest area with a total of 11,393 hectares, followed by Makilala with 10,072 hectares. (Ferdinandh Cabrera and Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)