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AGRIWATCH

Growing rich from rubber

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At 4:30 a.m. last Sunday, during the DZMM “Sa Kabukiran” radio program mainly hosted by Louie Tabing, I heard Dr. Eugenio Alcala (0918-9797308; email: alcala_eugene@yahoo.com) talk about growing rich from rubber. For one hectare, with only a P7,000 investment during the first year for rubber planting materials and P1,000 for fertilizer for the first and succeeding years, one can get an annual income of more than P300,000 on the twentieth year.

Below is a table on the growth of this income:

RUBBER INCOME FOR ONE HECTARE

YEAR                        GRAMS          INCOME

PER MONTH         PER TREE        GROSS MONTHLY                  YEARLY

1st-5th year               0                        0                                                    0

6th year                     20                      P1,700                                          P17,000

9th year                     100                      8,500                                            85,000

13th year                   200                   17,000                                           170,000

16th year                   300                   25,500                                           255,000

20th year                   375                    31,875                                           318,750

Note: Computed for 400 trees in one hectare at P85 per kilo

Though the income growth starts only in the sixth year, the returns for the succeeding years are well worth the wait.

Not costing the farmer’s labor, which can be done during his spare time, the P12,000 investment for rubber inputs  over five years is fully recovered in the sixth year. Gross income hits its peak of P318,750 on the twentieth year.

During the first five years, the farmer has to spend only two to three hours, three times a week nurturing the rubber plants. This is not such a big sacrifice, since the farmer can still carry out his daily routine.

We often think of rubber solely grown in plantations by large multinationals. Alcala sees the greater benefit to be the small farmers planting rubber as an additional crop for their increased incomes.

In addition, since rubber is a marginal crop, it can be grown successfully in our unutilized upland areas (now more than 13 million hectares) where other crops cannot thrive.

Alcala’s journey

In the early 70’s, Alcala was the student council head of the Mindanao Institute of Technology (now called the University of Southern Mindanao). He used peaceful means to fight martial law, but still got into trouble for his idealism. Alcala then rechanneled his idealism to transferring the right agricultural technologies to improve the small farmers’ plight.

From 1985 to 1989, for his doctorate in Malaysia, Alcala chose rubber to be his specialty. He believed that rubber was the best product to uplift the lives of many small farmers. He subsequently became a director of the International Rubber Research and Development Board from 1992 to 2009. When he retired two years ago, Alcala formed the Getah Asly (Bahasa language for natural rubber) Development Inc. (GADI). Today, he is bringing the richness of rubber to small farmers more effectively through GADI.

Farming systems

Alcala believes that the ideal farming system should have 60 percent of its products for commercial crops (e.g., rubber, cacao, etc.), 30 percent for food (e.g., rice, corn, livestock, etc.), and 10 percent for other offerings such as medicinal product and ornamentals.

As an example, he says that a farmer planting only corn is missing a great opportunity. For a corn farmer to add rubber to his farming system, all he has to do is give up 10 to 15 percent of one hectare to accommodate 400 rubber trees. Much of the land taken away can still be planted to other crops such as cacao and coffee. The rest of the land can continue being used for corn.

The farmer’s small investment for the first five years establishes the foundation for significantly increasing his income in the succeeding years.

Recommendation

Alcala believes that the neglect experienced by the rubber industry should not be repeated. He believes the new government will be more supportive of technology transfer for rubber.

We recommend that Alcala do for rubber what Jonathan Nayga is doing for goats. With input from Dr. Rolando Dy, AF 2025 private sector coordinator for Commercial Crops, he can likewise offer a three-day seminar to transfer this technology more systematically and effectively. The Department of Agriculture should support “Train the Trainer” programs on these promising technologies.

The eventual target clientele should be the local government agricultural extension workers. They can then transfer these technologies to the small farmers. This way, we will bring to fruition the untapped richness of our agricultural sector, thus significantly increasing both agricultural production and small farmer incomes.

(The author is chairman of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture, and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax 8522112.)


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