A farmer (left photo) of strife-torn village of Sapa in the mining town of Claver in Surigao del Norte sickles a golden brown stem of rice grains he reaped on his one-hectare organic farm that yielded 100 bags. Photo courtesy of Alexis Estampa of THPAL Nickel Corporation. Right, Lt. Col. Allen Tomas, commander of 30IB, Genevieve Chua, manager of THPAL Community Relations, Ignacio Lauzon, CEO of Good Harvest Bio-Organic Farming, Claver Councilor Georgia Gotiangkee and Jeanette Uy Rubi of Philippine Economic Zone Authority proudly show off the stems of rice grains from the 15-hectare organic farm tilled by farmers in the strife-torn village of Sapa in the mining town of Claver in Surigao del Norte. Below, A mechanized harvester operator started reaping the bountiful organic rice farm tilled by farmers in the strife-torn village of Sapa in the mining town of Claver in Surigao del Norte. Photo by Chris V. Panganiban
By CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN, Contributing Editor
CLAVER, Surigao del Norte--Farmers in the remote strife-torn village of Sapa in this rich mining town are seeing bright prospects in uplifting their impoverished living conditions after they embraced the productive organic rice farming.
And their hard work has paid off when they reaped at least 100 bags per hectare during the harvest of an initial 15 hectares over the weekend.
Support groups including Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. (THPAL), local government units and the military witnessed the bountiful yield at the rice fields to mark the “Örganic Rice Farming 1st Harvest Festival”. The rice lands are part of the 42 hectares organic farms they developed in September last year.
The village of Sapa, some seven kilometres from the town center is considered by local officials and the military as conflict area where there is still strong mass based support to the communist New Peoples Army rebels.
Village chair Aida Virtudazo said until now their place is still being bothered by hostilities between the communist guerrillas and government troopers disrupting farming activities that they can only make one cropping season in a year.
Lt. Col. Allen Tomas, commander of the 30th Infantry Battalion, said the village has been a NPA stronghold because of strong support from the residents that one of the areas called Sikan has once been used as a guerrilla base where tired rebels coming from fierce fighting would seek refuge.
With organic rice farming, Sapa farmers are hopeful they can now cope up with two cropping seasons in a year with help of Ignacio Lauzon, chief executive officer of Good Harvest Bio-organic Farming, who taught them the already proven organic farming technology and the support of THPAL on farm inputs through the company’s Social Development Management Program.
Lauzon admitted at first the farmers were hesitant to adopt the technology having been used to traditional farming methods relying mostly on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and inbreed rice varieties that they only yield an average of 50-70 bags per hectare.
“I will not force you to adopt this cause I’m only open to those who believe that we can do it,”Lauzon recalled telling the Sapa farmers who witnessed the bountiful harvest yielded by farmers in Urbiztundo village in May last year whose laterite-laden unproductive rice fields have been abandoned 12 years ago.
The Urbiztundo farmers tending their coastal area farms were caught by surprise when they harvested 130 bags a hectare after three months of toiling hard to rehabilitate the nutrients of the rice lands hit by the laterite wastes of nickel ores from the mining excavations in the upper part of the mountain.
Julian Erazo, village councilman of Sapa, 56, said he never thought that some of rice stalks already showed signs of withering would recover after Lauzon taught the farmers in using organic spray on its stems and leaves.
“There is a big difference between the past and the recent cropping because the grains looks shiny golden brown,”Erazo said.
He is keeping his fingers crossed they can now achieve at least two cropping in a year especially that THPAL provided them irrigation pumps, farm tractors and harvesters if only to increase their yield to the rain-fed dependent rice lands.
Town councillor Georgia Gokiangkee, wife of Mayor Eddie Gokiangkee who is seeking the mayoralty post uncontested in the May elections, said she welcome the expansion of organic rice farms in Claver to address food sufficiency that have cause high prices in the local market.
“We need to sustain a food security program since our agricultural production could only provide half of the supply of commodities in the face of continuing influx of mining workers to different companies operating in our town,”Gokiangkee said.
Carlos Quirequre, municipal agriculturist, said Claver needs to fully boost some 800 hectares of rice land, at least 300 hectares for organic farming, to address the food supply shortage.
He believes farming and mining productively co-exist in Claver to fully develop the second class municipality which now gains more than P500 million income a month.
The rehabilitation of rice farms in Claver were jointly initiated by the Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion and THPAL and the local government to let residents go back to sustainable farming for them to get ready after the life of mining operation in the next 21 years.
The organic rice farm project which was introduced by the 36th IB to the conflict-stricken village of Lindoy in Tago town in Surigao del Sur under “the “Project: Kapalayapaan” was broached by Lt. Col. Randolph Rojas, former commanding officer of the Army unit.
Kapalaypaan was coined from “kapayapaan” (peace) and palay (rice).