I am against oil palm plantations in Davao Oriental!
The title of this post somewhat summarizes what I am feeling right now. Just a caution, this post is kinda fired up.
Recent news articles said that the government, as part of its investment plan in Mindanao, reveals thousands of hectares of lands suitable for oil palm. The exact figure is 900,000 hectares as potential and 177,000 hectares is under negotiation already.
Well, it is a given fact that Mindanao is the country’s agribusiness hub with the numerous plantations of banana, pineapple and slowly increasing, the oil palm in many parts of Mindanao. Thus, majority of agricultural exports comes from Mindanao notably the coconut oil and banana.
However, among those dollar-earning exports, the least developed and supported is the coconut industry. Referred to as “sunset industry” and despite coconut oil being the top export earner, most poorest provinces are coconut-producing. Many factors are enumerated such as limited support to farmers, producing only a single product which is copra (later on processed to coconut oil), century-old land sharing arrangement between landowners and tenants, among others. Check with AFRIM for many studies conducted on coconut industry and oil palm plantations.
I may not have the exact data for what I claimed in previous paragraphs but what really strike me hard was the news report of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan eyeing Davao Oriental for oil palm plantations. His company with an international oil company he co-owned is actually entering my province, the top coconut-producing province which suffered Pablo’s wrath last December! Based on the news report, his company is assessing around 30,000 hectares. That is 30,000 football fields, if one find it hard to imagine how vast it is (thanks to a colleague for point it out to me yesterday).
To steer clear why I am anti-oil palm plantations in my province, here are my points.
1) Oil palm plantations are monocrop – that is planting only oil palm (only one crop) in hundreds of hectares. Nothing except grasses and other shrubs can grow underneath. Other food crops like root crops, vegetables, fruit trees and others have low survival rate in this type of land.
2) Oil palm will replace our beloved coconut trees! This is what I feared the most. With the devastation brought by Pablo in east coast municipalities of Davao Oriental, I am afraid that the government move will be replacing coconut lands with oil palm plantations instead of replanting coconut trees. Imagine the landscape of these coastal communities where coconut is so productive due to proximity to salty ocean which serves as its natural fertilizer will be replaced with those ugly oil palm trees (yes, I am getting personal).
3) No alternative livelihood for farmers. To make my point clear, a coconut farmer in Davao Oriental, while waiting for harvest time in three months’ time, maintains either a rice field, vegetable gardens, or an orchard. With oil palm plantations, farmers’ options are limited to labor work only. Okay, I am open for discussion if someone will tell me what will be the farmers’ alternatives.
4) Oil palm plantations simply cannot match eco-tourism. Davao Oriental boasts its pristine beaches, waterfalls, mountains and other natural sights to behold. Just imagine if you’re off to visit Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel and getting there, you’ll pass by tracks of lands planted with only one crop: oil palm. Will it be a feast of sight for your eyes? Most tourists love to dwell with nature (like hiking into a mountain with forest shade protecting you from the sun) but a huge plantation like that is simply not a nature, right?
5) Oil palm will cause deforestation. The ongoing campaign of Greenpeace in palm oil issue in Indonesia will certainly give us a point or two to ponder. Do we want our Mindanao to be the next Malaysia and Indonesia? Or more specifically, do I want the surviving forest of Davao Oriental to suffer more? Our hands area already full with reports of illegal logging and mining applications in the province. Pablo provides us with hard core evidence of how rampant illegal logging is. Why should we allow another potential nightmare to haunt us more?
At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, our local officials has the final say on this issue. For my part, what I can do is to inform our neighbors back home the ugly side of oil palm plantations. Yes, promises of instant fortune will be offered and yes, accepted. But I still believe that if only coconut industry will be supported to maximize its full potential, that promised fortune will be delivered, double-fold.
Here my personal advocacy continues.