By CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN
SAN LUIS, Agusan del Sur --- Bienvenido Rebalde,62, is now at the prime of his life but the future still looks bright for him and his wife.
The couple is now enjoying their retirement years no longer bothered of struggling to meet both ends since their two grown up children are living separately on their own. Yet, the blessings still kept pouring in as the half a hectare farm of rubber trees will be ready for harvest next year.
Rebalde is a farmer-enrollee of Upland Sustainable Agri-forestry Development (USAD) growing 250 rubber trees since 2014 in the hinterland village of Mahapag in San Luis town. In between a row of lanky rubber trees are sturdy abaca plants expected to become productive this year.
“We tend this farm every day to make sure that plants grow robustly. We no longer need fertilizers because we rely on our feet to be the nourishment of our plants,” Rebalde said.
He was among the 40 rubber farmers in his village once a conflict area in the 1980s at the height of atrocities between government soldiers and New Peoples Army rebels.
Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza recently went out of his way to visit the USAD farms in Mahapag and in the neighboring village of Santiago where farmer enrollees maintain cacao plants, at least many of them already bearing the fruits of their labor that they already produced tableya, a roasted cocoa beans that are pressed into coin shape tablets.
The governor is hopeful the living condition of USAD farmers in the two villages will be better in due time when the program to improve the lot of lowly farmers in the upland communities will rev up in full throttle.
“I am happy to be here since I saw for myself the progress in implementing the USAD program,” Plaza said in his speech at the Barangay Hall of Santiagp during his day-long site visit.
He wanted to expand the coverage of USAD in the two villages for the farmer –enrollees to gain more income especially that most of them have still small children to rear and send to school.
After consulting with USAD agricultural technicians, Gov. Plaza pushed for another half hectare of expansion for each rubber farmer while giving more fertilizers to cacao growers for the plants to bear more fruits.
He urged local officials in San Luis to become more active partners in improving the performance of the USAD program. “ Palihug kog usad sa USAD (Please help improve USAD),” Plaza said matter-of-factly.
USAD farrmer-enrollees had been provided technical support and seedlings since the program started in 2014.
They were, however, required to sign a social contract in which they commit to religiously tend their farms, never pawn their harvest for loans or sell their trees while these were young.
This early Rebalde is hoping for a bountiful produce when his rubber trees would be ready for tapping at the same time the abaca could produce good quality fiber for commercial use.
Prices for rubber is still way below at P20 per kilo since their seems to be enough supply in the market. Rebalde is keeping his fingers crossed the prices of abaca would maintain its stable price at P80 per kilo to supplement their needs while waiting for a better command of prices for rubber.
Plaza has advised USAD rubber farmers to just stock their tapped rubber while waiting for a better price in the market since these products are not perishable goods.
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