BULATLAT SPECIAL REPORT:
In the mountains, there are mining companies. In the plains, the plantations occupy the land.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – – Some 300 indigenous peoples, farmers, workers, members of religious groups and the academe formed a network opposing the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao.
At least 500,000 hectares of land in Mindanao are covered with agricultural plantations primarily for export. In the last ten years, big agricultural corporations aggressively expanded their operations. From 2005 to 2014, the land areas covered by the plantations increased by 79 percent, according to the research by the newly formed Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Mindanao Network).
Citing data from various government agencies, REAP Mindanao Network said that up to 1.6 million hectares of land are targeted for the expansion of plantations of banana, pineapple, sugarcane, rubber, oil palm and cacao.
In a conference, Oct. 28 at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Ariel Casilao, REAP Mindanao Network spokesperson, said, “Mindanao is touted as the Land of Promise. Indeed, the entire Mindanao has been promised for the exploitation of big local and foreign agricultural corporations.”
The Philippine government, through its various agencies, has been enticing foreign investments on agriculture.
The Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. targets expansion of oil palm plantations by 300,000 hectares by 2023.
In its National Greening Commodity Roadmap (2013-2016), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) targets the expansion of rubber plantations by 116,000 hectares, of coffee by 87,900 hectares and of cacao by 60,000 hectares.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Agricultural Development and Commercial Corporation has identified over 250,000 hectares of land “suitable and possible target for expansion of sugarcane plantation in Mindanao.”
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the government’s land reform programs have exempted lands controlled by big agricultural corporations.
Multinational companies Dole and Del Monte which control large tracts of banana and pineapple plantations in Mindanao account for more than 20 percent of world supply of fresh fruits.
Japanese company Sumifru and South American-based corporation Unifrutti also operate in Mindanao.
In 2014, Dole Philippines announced it is eyeing the expansion of its pineapple plantation area to at least 12,000 hectares. Meanwhile, Unifrutti recently invested P3.7 billion for a 2,600 expansion of banana plantation in Maguindanao.
Food security in peril
The produce of agricultural corporations is mainly for export and not for local consumption.
In 2012, the Philippines accounted for 93.9 percent of banana exports in Asia and 10.1 percent of production of pineapple in the world.
The country is also a net exporter of natural rubber in various processed forms. Cacao and crude palm oil are also being exported.
Mariano said the expansion of these agricultural plantations threatens the country’s food security.
He said that if the 500,000 hectares of land controlled by the plantations were converted to rice production, the Philippines would have been self-sufficient on rice.
Mariano said that if the average production is 4.6 metric tons per hectare, the 500,000 hectares of land in Mindanao could yield 4.6 million metric tons of palay or about 2.6 million metric tons of rice.
Where to go?
Lumad leader Jomorito Goaynon said the indigenous peoples and farmers have nowhere to go.
“In the mountains, there are mining companies. In the plains, the plantations occupy the land,” Goaynon said. “If we only knew the way to heaven, we would have gone there.”
Goaynon said the expansion of agricultural plantations and mining operations have forcibly evicted 40,000 Lumad in Mindanao.
Casilao, also nominee of Anakpawis Partylist, said the military and paramilitary groups have become instruments for the expansion of plantations.
On October 3, 2012, Gilbert Paborada, a leader of the Higaonon tribe who strongly opposed to the entry of oil palm plantation in Opol, Misamis Oriental was killed in Cagayan de Oro City.