Go slow on expansion of plantations, South Cotabato provincial gov’t urged

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/10 March) — Agriculture stakeholders in South Cotabato province have sought for the regulation by the provincial government of the introduction and expansion of industrial and plantation crops due to their noted environmental and health hazards.

Belen Fecundo, chair of the South Cotabato Provincial Agricultural and Fishery Council (PAFC), said Monday they have passed a resolution asking the provincial board or the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to pass an ordinance that would regulate the planned expansions of agricultural plantations within the province.

She said their studies showed that the ongoing introduction and expansion of various industrial and plantation crops in the province pose serious risks to the environment and the health of residents within the province’s 10 towns and lone city.

She said they have documented problems on health, environment, loss of genetic diversity, pest infestations, among others due to the expansion of industrial and plantation crops in the province.

Fecundo pointed out that the use of the monocropping system by the plantation companies mainly increases the vulnerability of crops in nearby areas to various insect pests and diseases.

“Their use of harmful pesticides could cause, not only health hazards, but also the possible contamination of the soil and trigger the scarcity of surface and ground water resources,” she said.

Owing to this, Fecundo said it is only proper for the provincial government to look into the matter and set regulatory policies.

Citing provisions of PAFC Resolution No. 005, she said the local government should specifically review the current practices of companies currently maintaining or operating agricultural plantations in the area.

The resolution specifically noted the banana, pineapple, papaya, avocado and other agricultural plantations operated by multi-national agricultural companies, among them the Stanfilco, Dole Philippines, Lapanday Corporation and Sumifru Corporation.

Francisco Domingo, South Cotabato provincial agriculturist, supported the PAFC’s move saying the setting of proper regulatory policies for the introduction and expansion of industrial and plantation crops augurs well with the province’s food security initiatives.

He said majority of the province’s land area is currently planted with agricultural crops or specifically around 164,800 hectares or about 44 percent.

Of these, Domingo said 35 percent or around 57,000 hectares are planted with corn while 25 percent or a total of 41,420 hectares are planted with various high-value commercial crops (HVCC).

The most planted HVCCs in the province are pineapple with 22,144 hectares, banana with 6,066 hectares, cassava with 3,977 hectares and papaya with 1,294 hectares, he said.

The official said rice or palay comprises 22 percent or a total of 37,109 hectares and the remaining 18 percent or 29,263 hectares compose the other crops.

“We are presently safeguarding the hectarage of our rice lands so that it will not keep on decreasing.” Domingo said in a statement issued by the Provincial Information Office.

Board member Vicente de Jesus, chair of the provincial board’s committee on agriculture, said they will study PAFC’s resolution and other inputs from concerned stakeholders in the province before deciding on the matter.

He said they are currently conducting public hearings to further shed light on the matter and determine the pulse of local residents, especially the affected sectors. (MindaNews)