Farmers in Albay town gets P1.5-M livelihood assistance from DOLE

By Danny O. Calleja

GUINOBATAN, Albay, Jan. 20 (PNA) -– Town Mayor Ann Gemma Ongjoco here has expressed optimism that local farmers who have embraced coco net weaving as an alternative industry will be able to improve their purchasing power out of the about P1.5-million in livelihood assistance recently granted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

This is a good start this year for the Guinobatan Coco Twine Workers Organization (GCTWO), an organization of coconut farm workers which the DOLE Bicol regional office on Sunday granted P1.49-million in forms of equipment, supplies and materials for their coconut twine manufacturing, Ongjoco on Monday said.

Beneficiaries of the grant are 150 farmers who have bonded themselves into the organization that is pursuing the coconut twine making, a fast-raising industry that converts coconut husk coir into high-end industrial products, she said.

Members of the GCTWO are distributed among the villages of Bubulusan, Lomacao, Malabnig, Upper Binogsacan, Muladbucad Grande, Muladbucad Pequeño, Inascan, Mapaco, Lower Binogsacan, San Jose, and Mauraro — all upland areas here dominated by coconut plantations.

While coco twine making serves only as their alternative source of livelihood since they primarily rely on copra and other major coconut-based products, this new industry will certainly provide them additional income to augment their household economy, Ongjoco said.

Prior to the DOLE grant, the group was provided with training by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under its Rural Micro Enterprise Promotion Program (RUMEPP) focused on technologies in coco fiber twining and weaving leading to the manufacture of coconut husk-derived baled decorticated fibers, twines and geonets.

The training course that took four days to complete was technically supervised by engineer Justino Arboleda, the founder and owner of Juboken Enterprises and Coco Technologies Corp. (COCOTECH), now the country’s leading bioengineering company and coir manufacturer based in the nearby Camalig town.

Arboleda, who once served as an engineering professor of Bicol University, is a very enterprising Bicolano who has proven for himself and to the entire coconut world that husks are not waste but wealth to provide livelihood opportunities to marginalized rural communities and a long-term solution to environmental degradation.

The country’s coconut farms produce about eight billion husks yearly, which are burned or left to rot in farms with three billion of these used as fuel in copra cooking—a very deplorable low utilization rate of only 20 percent despite its wide potential for various uses when manufactured.

These manufactured products are now in demand as soil erosion control material, horticultural aid, industrial fiber pads and charcoal briquettes, among other important uses in both local and overseas applications.

Geonets are modern civil engineering construction materials that generally replace scarce raw material resources like steel and cement and are good alternatives to conventional designs in terms of eco-friendliness, cost-effectiveness in carrying out basic functions such as filtration, drainage, separation, reinforcement and protection.

The coco fiber roll or fascine, made from 100-percent decorticated coconut fiber compressed in tubular nylon netting, and the coco fiber mat made of coir fiber stitched into mats of different specifications are used as wall proof and roof insulation, furniture liners, mulching materials, grass mats and erosion control blankets.

These products are being exported to Germany, Japan, United States, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka and Dubai. DOLE Regional Director Nathaniel Lacambra said the future for this industry is very promising and “we at DOLE foresee that in two to three years’ time, this project will significantly improve the lives of the beneficiaries.”

He said the grant was taken from DOLE’s Bottom-Up Budgeting (BUB), a budgeting system adopted by the government in which the involved budget holders are given the opportunity to participate in the process of settling their own budgets, according to DOLE Bicol Regional Director Nathaniel Lacambra.

One of the advantages of BUB is its perceived accuracy since the elements are more detailed.

There is also the benefits pitched in with participative management, and the difference in opinions can be resolved since the people outside the officials are involved, Lacambra said.

In this particular project, he said, it was the GCTWO which decided on the livelihood venture they are going into and determined by themselves the amount of equipment and other supplies needed.

It was this year’s second release of over a million-peso worth of livelihood assistance made by DOLE-Bicol under the BUB.

Last Jan.10, according to Lacambra, his office released the first one amounting to P1.7 million to the municipality of Juban, Sorsogon, for the benefit of 170 recipients who are members of an organization granted livelihood assistance by the DOLE. (PNA)