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ESSAY: Seaman’s wife stretches income via rubber plant investment (First of two parts)

PASAY CITY—EARLY evening here in an air-conditioned room, Sandra dela Cruz performed what she does every morning far south in her rubber plantation: stretching a hand.

But while the 50-year-old spouse of a seaman is used to doing the latter, there was a lifting feeling as she did the former.

Who wouldn’t be if, like Dela Cruz, she was the matriarch of this year’s most outstanding Filipino seafaring family, awarded December 6 by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

But her mind already stretched to a husband bobbing on a boat on a vast blue sea on-and-off for the past 15 years.

Likewise, with rubbery knees with the accolades she received, Dela Cruz said she couldn’t wait to go back to her fourth-class hometown of Sofronio Espanola (100 kms. south of Puerto Princesa City) in Palawan where her 4-hectare farm awaits the touch of its mistress.

Her work on the three-year-old rubber tree farm is the reason for the OWWA recognition, and her basis to say she’s used to stretching her hand.

Every morning since 2007, she said she and two caretakers stretch their hands to pour the right amount of fertilizer to the trees, as well as water that matches the light from the Palawan sun. Those trees must get the right balance of water and heat, she explained.

Sandra said she will continue this daily routine until the year 2012, when the trees start bearing latex.

If plans don’t go awry, yields from this high-value commercial crop can see Sandra stretch the investible value of remittances coming from husband Victor.

This is because the wife also wishes husband Victor to stay home, on dry land, for good.

The 53-year-old electrician is currently deployed under local-based ship principal BW Shipping.

“I estimate the prospective income from rubber production will be bigger than his salary as a seaman by the time our third child finishes schooling.”

Sandra’s youngest is on his sophomore year in high school while a daughter is taking up nursing in Manila. Two of her older daughters are already working.

Elastic

SANDRA’S confidence in the yields offered by rubber planting is based on scientific and financial data.

A budded rubber tree not only grows faster than unbudded trees: budded rubber trees can produce latex of 200 grams minimum, and harvesting is every other day.

A hundred budded rubber trees can yield 20 kilos of latex, or 300 kilos in a given month —and at just a little above a greenback (P50) per processed latex, a rubber farmer can yield P15,000 every month from a hundred trees.

A rubber tree (or Havea brasiliensis, which is of South American origin) even gives farmers latex that lasts up to 35 years.

“My children and grandchildren can inherit my business,” Sandra said.

The inheritance may be big as Sandra said her family plans to expand their farm by another 20 has. next year.

“Twenty hectares more to plant rubber next year,” she says with glee. “Anyway, I’m used to this.”

She’s confident with the plan saying that rubber production is “not too expensive”.

Sweat and fertilizers are the equities —cheaper, Sandra says, compared buying budded rubber seedlings at the cost of P4,500 to P5,000 (100 seedlings cost P45 to P50).

Seedlings are not much of a problem for the barangay because the mountainous part of Labog had a lot of these.

She said she first saw those seedlings —”a truckload”— after visiting the family-owned rice field in 2006.

That encounter made dela Cruz decide to plant rubber after 12 years (beginning 1994) of planting various crops —from fruits, paper trees, to mahogany trees, to even oil palm fruits. The latter, according to her, easily perish after harvest.

A year later, in 2007, Sandra and Victor bankrolled a seminar organized by the provincial agriculturist that benefited 64 fellow villagers.

After the training, the Brgy. Labog Rubber and Ube Planters Association was formed.

When the group’s former president died, Sandra, that time the group’s project manager for external affairs, took over. She prodded members to plant 100 budded rubber trees on each of their own nurseries.

(To be concluded)

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