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New loan facility opened to rubber farms

ZAMBOANGA CITY — September 4, 2009 - Darwin T. Wee
The Agriculture department has announced the availability of a P15-million loan facility for rubber farmers and processors in Zamboanga Peninsula.

Salvador S. Salacup, Agriculture assistant secretary for agribusiness and marketing, said the fund forms part of a commitment to rubber development in the region under the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund program.

The announcement was made during the gathering of rubber manufacturers and processors last week in the town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay for the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area Rubber Conference.

Mr. Salacup, who represented Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap in the two-day conference, said the Agriculture department has started community-based research projects on rubber farming systems, with assistance from the Western Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center.

"We are working to expand the current area planted to rubber to one million hectares, and increase production and exports to $140 million by 2016. Such expansion is expected to create at least one million new jobs for plantation workers, tappers and processors. We need to accomplish tough tasks to ensure the completion of our objectives," he said.

Based on official statistics, the country has 111,000 hectares of rubber plantations in 2007.

He added the facility hopes to intensify production of rubber planting materials by providing funds for investment in budwood gardens and nurseries, strengthening nursery certification systems, and providing needed support in the establishment of foundation groves.

A budwood garden is where local farmers can acquire budded rubber planting materials. It serves as the laboratory where the rubber plants are being budded, cloned, and cultured.

At least 10 additional budwood gardens and nurseries are expected to be established in emerging rubber production municipalities throughout the region.

The Agriculture department’s regional office presently maintains 12 budwood gardens and nurseries located in key rubber production areas throughout the region.

Mr. Salacup said meeting the rubber production target requires transfer of technology through training and publications to enhance national average yield from the current one ton to two tons per hectare.

He said a rubber research and training center in Zamboanga Sibugay is also being established.

"Through the rubber development program office of the DA-National Agribusiness Corp., we are piloting the Rubber Enterprise Development Project to establish small-scale rubber enterprises in [the towns of] Tungawan and Siay here in Zamboanga Sibugay, South Cotabato and Bukidnon," he said.

Zamboanga Sibugay is Zamboanga Peninsula’s top rubber producer with roughly 90,000 metric tons of semi-refine rubber being produced annually. President Gloria M. Arroyo earlier referred to the province as "the rubber capital" of the country.

Senior regional agriculturist Marcial Fantone said his office plans to expand land planted to rubber by more than 20,000 hectares.

Zamboanga Peninsula, with close to 50,000 hectares planted to rubber trees, has been a major producer of this industrial commodity, accounting for up to 48% of the country’s rubber production.

The Philippines ranked sixth in the world’s list of rubber producers, with annual production of 122,000 metric tons. Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are the world’s three top producers, supplying more than 70% of total rubber demand worldwide. — Darwin T. Wee