AROROY, MASBATE – Small-scale mining used to be the bread and butter of members of the Luy-A, Balete, Concepcion (LUBACON) Agro Scale Miners and Gold Processors Multi-Purpose (MP) Cooperative. However, they had to stop when the Masbate Gold Project-Filminera Resource Corp. (MGP-FRC) began its operation in their area.  

“Hindi na po namin kinaya ang pressure ng large scale mining. Ang lupa kasi nila dun din kami nagmimina so kailangan na nila yung area kaya nagkawatak-watak na rin kami,” Arnel Morado, Chairman of LUBACON Agro Scale Miners and Gold Processors MP Cooperative, narrated.

In their search for alternative sources of income, Arimado and the 60 members of the LUBACON Agro Scale Miners and Gold Processors MP Cooperative–mostly farmers before engaging in mining activities, found new hopes in black gold or coconut charcoal. According to Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS) data, 12,097 households in Aroroy use charcoal while 33 restaurants and 65 canteens use charcoal to minimize their production cost. Restaurants demand about 240 metric tons of charcoal while canteens require at least 118 metric tons to sustain their operations for one year. This inspired the establishment of the Lubacon Coco Charcoal Production and Marketing Enterprise, an enterprise subproject funded under the Department of Agriculture Philippine Rural Development Project (DA-PRDP) enterprise development (I-REAP) component.

While other business enterprises worldwide are reeling under the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic to the economic sector, coconut farmer-members of the LUBACON Agro Scale Miners and Gold Processors MP Cooperative were expectant as the DA-PRDP in Bicol headed by Regional Executive Director and PRDP-Bicol Project Director Rodel P. Tornilla officially turn over the P13.45 million-worth I-REAP enterprise to them on September 8, 2020 in Brgy. Malubi, this municipality.

The start-up small enterprise was completed one month ahead of schedule. It will be managed and operated by the LUBACON Agro Scale Miners and Gold Processors MP Cooperative will concentrate on producing charcoal used for coking on stoves and furnaces. Among the interventions provided by the PRDP-Bicol I-REAP were the construction of coprahan or tapahan, charcoal processing center and warehouse. The Project also provided a truck, charcoal briquetting machine, charcoal kiln, manual deshellers, rake, flat shovel, wheel cart, and sack sealers. Moreover, the Project procured 260,000 whole nuts to serve as the enterprise’s raw materials for its first month of operation.

“Sa pamamagitan ng pag-operate ng coco charcoal (enterprise) dito, inaasahan ko na tataas ang kita kasi meron na kaming buyer ng coco charcoal, pati na rin copra at saka coco mat… Dati kung kumikita kami ng P2,000 siguro by estimate ko dadagdag yun mga P4,000 pataas pa kada buwan,” Ruel Bobiles, a coconut and rice farmer from Brgy. Panique Aroroy, Masbate, said. He added that without the I-REAP subproject, they have meager profit left because hauling their produce to Masbate City costs them P100 per bag. “Mas magaan na ngayon kesa dati kasi hindi ka na mag-iisip kung saan ka magbebenta ng produkto,” he added.  

Arimado, on the other hand, believes that the enterprise would empower coconut farmers in Aroroy to command the right prices for the commodity.

“Malaking bagay po ito na merong nabebentahan na ng produkto yung aming mga miyembro na direkta nang hindi po naaagrabyado sa presyo kasi kami-kami po ang magpapatakbo ng negosyo. So bale maiiwasan na po yung hindi makatarungang presyo ng niyog na minsan sa bilihan sinasamantala ng malalaking negosyante. Dito makikinabang na sila ng tama at mabibigyan ng tamang presyo dahil kami-kami lang ang magkukuwenta kung paano tutubo ang produkto nang nararapat o mas malaki pa sa dati nilang kinikita, mas pabor po sa aming mga miyembro. Kung dati parang per thousand kumikita lang sila ng P500 siguro ngayon, P1,000 at higit pa dahil sa kami-kami mismo ang nagpoproseso,” he remarked.

PRDP Project Support Office (PSO) South Luzon Procurement Unit Head Michael Gregory Vargas, PRDP PSO South Luzon I-BUILD Head Engr. Allan Tatierra, PRDP-Bicol Deputy Project Director Adelina A. Losa, PRDP-Bicol I-BUILD Head Engr. Ted C. Eleda joined RED Tornilla and Mayor Arturo B. Virtucio in gracing the blessing and turn over of the I-REAP facility.

I-REAP is one of PRDP’s four components designed to strengthen and develop viable agriculture- and fishery-based enterprises by providing technical, financial and infrastructure support to eligible groups in targeted project areas within the priority value chains. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA-RAFIS V)