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

Chewy

SEVERAL references cite the Philippines having a young rubber industry (55 years), though rubber planting was first discovered in Basilan during the early 1900s. Mindanao provinces such as North Cotabato and Zamboanga City, are the country’s rubber havens, a paper by the Bureau of Agricultural Research cited.

The Philippines’ mostly smallholder rubber planters plant the crop in a total of 110,958 ha. and produced a volume of 407,640 metric tons of rubber in 2009, data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics bares.

During a 2005 international rubber conference held in Davao City, international rubber experts predict the Philippines can soar in the world rubber market by 2020 given the country’s high production and consumption of natural rubber.

Palawan is not actually a hub of rubber planting and production in the Philippines given that the provincial agriculturist’s inventory shows that the province only has 625.4 has. of rubber plantations.

Agriculture officials eye Palawan as the next rubber hub as tire manufacturer Goodrich announced last April plans to set up a 20,000 ha. plantation in the province. The target area is big enough to set up a tire processing center.

Goodyear, Firestone, and Sime Darby have already penetrated the Mindanao market.

Department of Agriculture official Rene Espino of the high value commercial crops (HVCC) program says this size of a property for rubber planting requires one “large investor” to spend US$2,000 to US$3,000 per ha.

This amount would already cover the entire rubber production cycle: from planting rubber to processing sap into rubber sheets.

Rubber is also used to make condoms, furniture, medical products like surgical gloves, foam mattresses, and even artificial flowers.

What rubber does is spread 50,000 times over —not just for automobile tires, Philippine Rubber Board executive director Eugenio Alcala said during the 2005 conference.

Gummed

SANDRA and her fellow villagers from Labog village are trying to capitalize what Palawan has to offer: rubber trees grow well in the island’s climatic and environmental conditions, scientists say. Agriculture officials and private investors also want to make many areas of the Philippines’s western stretch a hub of rubber production.

Agriculture department executives are enticing more investors, not just Goodrich, to open new rubber planting areas in Palawan.

Sandra said she’s neither worried about that nor the entry of middlemen in the budding agri-business.

Dela Cruz says local farmers need not bring their products elsewhere but within Palawan, especially given Goodrich’s plans.

She also thinks the stretch of the market “is wide” since the demand for processed rubber is worldwide (China alone, rubber experts say, already consumes a third of rubber production).

Given Palawan’s location, dela Cruz says neighboring Southeast Asian countries Indonesia and Malaysia are a target market especially if the first-class municipality of Brooke’s Point (near the southern tip of Palawan) opens a port to cover the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

“We are producers or suppliers, so we are not worried of the competition,” said dela Cruz.

But these market prospects mean dela Cruz will continue stretching roles: farmer-tiller, farm manager, fellow smallholder-cultivator, and left-behind migrant housewife to four children.

Husband Victor will also have to continue, for the meantime, his seafaring stretch.

Which means Sandra’s use of some of Victor’s remittances for rubber planting also stretches. The P600,000 prize from the OWWA award also would help.

“Ever since, our fellow villagers invested money and in hardwork on planting rice, but rice harvests cannot sustain our needs. Until now, the situation remains the same,” dela Cruz said.

She said that by going into rubber, the scenario greatly changes.

“We invest our money just one time, then continue with working hard, and in the end we just harvest and harvest. That’s what rubber does.”#

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