Janina Myn Z. Villlapando[FEATURE] What used to be coconut farm wastes found in abundance along the coastline of Gumaca, Quezon has become a major source of livelihood for the residents of Brgy. Progreso. This was made possible by the newly constructed decorticating or husking plant in Brgy. Progreso in Gumaca.
Barangay Councilor Joel Vicente, a 31-year-old plant machine operator, was one of the first to be part of the project. Barangay Councilor Vicente explained that their barangay benefitted greatly from the decorticating plant that produces coco coir, a fiber from the outer husk of the coconut used to make ropes and matting. Vicente added that with more than half of the plant personnel coming from Brgy. Progreso, the decorticating plant has provided residents with a major source of income.
The decorticating plant processes coconut husks, extracting the fiber known as the coco coir. The production of coco coir produces a by-product called the coco peat. The coir can be found in mattresses, upholstery, ropes, and doormats. It is also used as geo textile for soil erosion control and desertification. The peat, on the other hand, is used in horticulture and vegetation as soil additive and conditioner and as a growing medium.
These products are exported mainly to countries like China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, demand for coir products continues to increase because of the cheap, high-quality products produced. The organizations involved aim to reach more countries and more markets by the end of their five-year plan.
This Coco Coir Production Project is managed through the partnership of the Department of Agrarian Reform-Quezon II (DAR-QII), Filcoco Ventures Inc. (FVI), and Vibavipagasa Farmers Credit Cooperative (VFCC). A memorandum of agreement was signed by these parties on June 24, 2011 at Mandaluyong City. They have agreed upon a five-year plan consisting of activities such as the “May pera sa bunot campaign”, construction of farm to market roads, entrepreneurship trainings to farmer organizations and more which will help achieve the projects’ objectives: to develop and expand the supply of coco coir; improve access to market information; and strengthen market linkages.
According to the agreement, DAR-QII has to ensure the sustainability of coconut-based enterprise and shall provide technical assistance, monitoring, skills development and evaluation of the project. FVI, which is part of the Green Terafirma Pte Limited (GTL) Group of Companies, will provide financial assistance and transportation of husks from other barangays. The implementation of the strategies and general policies are in the hands of the VFCC.
“The ultimate goal is to increase export earnings from 1.3 million dollars up to 6.5 million dollars by the end of 2016” said Samuel Solomero, Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer II of DAR-QII.
They currently have three plants in Quezon located in Alabat, Catanauan, and Gumaca. Through the Gumaca coco coir plant alone, they will be able to employ around 120 people. Satellite plants are still planned to be constructed at different places in the Philippines.
Fifty-one-year-old Angelito Marcelino’s previous job was based far from his family in a field not related to what he studied. Marcelino is a mechanical engineering graduate. When the decorticating plant was established in Gumaca, Marcelino had the opportunity to apply his expertise. “I have more time for my family now,” Marcelino added.
Working in the plant does not require a college degree. This was an opportunity for Leonardo Eduarte, 19 years old. The salary is sometimes not enough, according to Eduarte, but he manages to get along. Since he resides far from the plant, he has to pay for his transportation, an added expense. He hopes to become a regular worker and secure a steady pay.
The plant transformed Brgy. Progreso, as seen not only by the workers directly benefitting from it, but also by its residents. According to Samuel Hernandez, a government employee and current resident of Brgy. Progreso, there has been significant changes in their barangay since the beginning of the operation of the plant. Even “tambays” became part by selling husks to the company and earning a small but considerably helpful amount of money. “I think in the long run, the company will boost the economy of Gumaca and even nearby towns” Hernandez added.
The decorticating plant has proved to be beneficial to the residents of the barangay, but some fear of the problems the plant may cause. Residents are saying that the plant will affect the quality of the water in the river nearby because of the resulting liquid from the coco peat. This has not yet been proven and the organizations involved assure the people that they doing all the mitigating process to avoid this. “We are building a leaching chamber to catch the liquid from the coco peat and store it for a time .This process will neutralize the acid from the coco peat liquid and it will be allowed to enter the river when it has been neutralized already” said Plant supervisor, Marcelino.
Still the coco coir production project has its advantages to the environment. What is generally considered waste can now be used to provide income to workers and thus lessening the threats of pollution in the place.
A new dimension for the coco husk
This project gave a new dimension for the ordinary coco husk which are otherwise just thrown, burned or lay into waste. It now has economic value though evidently very small.
“The environment and social impact of the business made us to embark on this project and to develop the technology” says Noel Florido, FVI President. He also added that the “partnership with DAR is consistent with its objective of poverty alleviation”.
Brgy. Progreso demonstrates how the collaboration between government agencies, private businesses, and the community can lead to mutually-benefitting and sustainable livelihood programs.