PRDP’s infra subproject offers big hopes for small town in Masbate

ESPERANZA, MASBATE – Corn farmer Estrella Arpon, 51, of Brgy. Guadalupe Esperanza, Masbate has learned to cope with poverty. A tenant to a .25 hectare corn area, half of her produce goes to the land owner. The corn farm usually yields three sacks without fertilizer or 13 sacks with fertilizer per cropping season. During drought season, she opts to buy and sell vegetables at Brgy. Sorosimbahan, located 30 minutes away from her home, to earn at least P20 to P30 per day. She also works as a gravel collector for an additional income. Along with her daughter and grandchildren, Arpon sells each sack of gravel for P15, P3 of which also goes to the land owner. Though difficult, Arpon works hard for her ailing husband and eight grandchildren’s subsistence.

Her situation is aggravated by the sorry condition of the road that leads to the commercial centers. There was an instance when she spilled the bag of rice she bought from the market when she fell from a motorcycle because of a pothole.

“Dati madalas dito ang aksidente dahil sa maputik at malubak na daan (We frequently encounter accidents because of the muddy and rugged road),” Arpon said.

Esperanza is a fifth class municipality located about 110 kilometers from Masbate City. It is accessible through bus which travels to and from Esperanza once a day for P220. Meanwhile, trips via van starts at 4 a.m. until 2 p.m. only for P250. Travel time via bus usually takes four to five hours while it takes 3.5 hours to reach the municipality via van. Commuters ride from the poblacion to other barangays in single motorcycles or “habal-habal” for P50.

The municipality is a typical agricultural area with 82.60 percent of its total land area devoted to agriculture. A total of 4,943 coconut farmers are into coconut production with an average farm size of 1.65 hectare. Other farmers also engage in corn, upland rice, banana, sweet potato, cassava, and yam production. Yet, 2010 data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) shows that Esperanza’s poverty incidence stands at 46 percent which is higher than the national and regional figures of 26 and 33 percent, respectively.

According to Esperanza Mayor Ian Peter Sepulveda, inefficient transport is one of the major hindrances to farmers’ progress in his municipality.

“Esperanza is a hub for coconut products specifically coconut oil and copra but I’ve observed several times that one of the hindrances preventing coconut from being a very good cash crop was the cost of transporting goods,” he said.

The Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP)-funded Concreting of (Segment A) Domorog-Tawad & (Segment B) San Roque–Baras FMR Project in Esperanza, Masbate aims to enhance the existing condition of the 10.39-kilometer access road to a concrete road. The P104.37 million-worth FMR subproject will benefit 7,843 individuals or 1,764 households, including Arpon, by developing the agri-economic and social condition in the project area, particularly the barangays of Domorog, Guadalupe, Tawad, San Roque and Baras.

“With the advent of the concrete road, many more trucks, four-wheeled vehicles can come in and out and transport not only copra, but various other agricultural processing including cassava, other root crops, including rice and corn,” Sepulveda said.

Arpon could not hold her gratitude for the road construction.

“Masayang-masaya kami na magkakaroon na ng kalsada dito sa amin mas mapapadali ang pagdala namin ng aming mga produkto. Maari na rin kaming magbayad ng mga magdadala ng aming mga produkto sa pamilihan o di kaya’y kung kami ang magbubuhat papunta sa pamilihan (We are very happy to have our own FMR. It will allow easier transportation of our products. We can even pay haulers to bring our products to the market or carry the products ourselves),” Arpon shared.

She related that during rainy season, treading the knee-deep muddy road is a struggle but with the concreting of the FMR, going to the city will be easier. She added that having a concrete road will reduce the risk of accidents and will make education, health and other government services more accessible to the people in remote barangays.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sepulveda mentioned that the recent development under PRDP opened doors of opportunity for the municipality. Currently, the local government unit (LGU) is transacting with Aoyama Jatropha Trading Corp., a Japanese company that wants to pilot a Jatropha plantation in Esperanza, Masbate. The company is also interested in buying coconut charcoal briquettes from the PRDP-funded enterprise.

With the Concreting of Segment (a) Domorog-Tawad and Segment (b) San Roque – Baras FMR Project, LGU-Esperanza eyes to establish an efficient and cost-effective road access for local commuters and tourists, increase traffic count by almost 70% upon completion of the subproject and boost economic productivity.

“We hope to graduate from our fifth class status into maybe fourth class. Also, at least give all our constituents a better chance at agriculture and alleviate them from hand-to-mouth existence–one meal a day to hopefully, three meals a day,” Mayor Sepulveda added.

Arpon expressed her wish to buy a single motorcycle which she can use in hauling her corn products once the FMR is completed. She also hopes that the road improvement will lead to the electrification of her barangay. Six more barangays in Esperanza, including Brgy. Guadalupe, do not have access to electricity yet. According to Mayor Sepulveda, it will cost the Masbate Electric Cooperative (MASELCO) about P30 million. But he mentioned that the LGU is exploring the possibility of solar electrification in the said barangays.

“Salamat sa PRDP dahil magkakaroon na kami ng kalsada ngayon nararamdaman na namin na magkakaroon na ng pag-unlad dito sa bayan ng Esperanza (Thanks to PRDP, we shall have our own FMR. I could sense progress in the municipality of Esperanza),” Arpon said.

PRDP is a six-year development project under the Department of Agriculture. The World Bank-assisted project aims to establish a modern, inclusive, value chain-oriented and climate-resilient agri-fishery sector in the countryside. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA-RAFIS V)