Aurora Coco plantation burned by NPA rebels in 2009 now in full bloom

By Jason de Asis

DINALUNGAN, Aurora, March 2, 2011-In May 2009, a 20-man band of suspected communist New People’s Army rebels stormed the 133 hectare Aurora Province Coconut Development Center (APCDC) in Barangay Dibaraybay here destroyed facilities and equipments then chopped and burned several young coconut seedlings.

To the surprise of officials of the APCDC, who launched the project 16 months earlier, the incident turned out to be a "blessing in disguise." The seedlings only grew further and developed into mature seedlings.

Today, the center which is projected to become the breeding ground of quality seed nuts for Luzon is now home to the best coconut varieties. Among them are embryo-cultured Macapuno, Tacunan Dwarf, Catigan Dwarf, Synvar, Baybay Tall, San Ramon Tall and Open Pollinated Variety-Baler. A total of 15,553 coco seedlings have been planted at a 98.7 hectare area of the APCDC in Dibaraybay, some three kilometers from the town proper.

Dennis Calub, regional director for Regions 1, 2, 3 and 4-B of the Philippine Coconut Authority, and project director of the APCDC said that the center - a brainchild of Sen. Edgardo Angara, Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara and Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo - is projected to grow up to 1.7 million coconuts and develop 1.34 million plantable seedlings by 2018.

"By 2018, with this much production, we can plant coconuts in an average of 13,400 hectares per year," he said, adding that it is enough to supply the demand of the Northern Luzon region.

The APCDC was first set up in this fourth-class town with the ceremonial planting on January 5, 2008. It was formally established on October 2, 2008 following the signing of the memorandum of agreement among the implementing agencies namely the PCA, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the provincial government of Aurora and the municipal government of Dinalungan.

Philiandro Garcia, center operations manager, said that the project was envisioned to be the center for coconut research, development and extension similar to the seed farm in Carmen, North Cotabato where two million coconuts were planted to some 26,000 hectares of plantation.

Calub stressed that the center’s 6-point mission include promotion and development of a sustainable and globally competitive coconut industry through researches, delivery of extension services and enterprise development for farmers, and commercial production of quality planting materials of high-yielding coconut varieties.

It will showcase the various integrated coconut-based farming and processing technologies for increased productivity and profitability; provision of appropriate training and technical support for farmers to improve their skills and access to capital and markets.

The center is also intended to revive the coconut industry and to contribute to the overall efforts to attain food security.

A total of 12 high-quality coconut varieties will be developed in the center where a two-hectare nursery for good quality seedlings and mother palms is being maintained. The project will be implemented over a period of 25 years.

Calub said that for the first five years of its operations, the center is projected to spend P215.88 million, of which P78 million has so far been released. The project’s funding was sourced from the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act through the countrywide development funds of Senator Angara.

Last January 22, some P10.5 million worth of facilities were inaugurated at the center, including the P5-million, two-story administration building, perimeter fence, the 1.7-kilometer access road and a 30,000-liter capacity elevated water tank. The administration building houses a library, training center cum dormitory and a laboratory for production of embryo-cultured Makapuno.

Calub said that at the project site, they have also implemented inter-cropping by planting various crops such as malungggay, banana, sweet potato, okra, corn, pineapple, palay, gabi and coffee beans at a 13-hectare area of the coconut plantation.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who was briefed by Calub on the progress of the project, said high-value crops can also be grown in the project site. He pledged to provide funding for the setting up of a 20 to 30-hectare high-value crop plantation.

Dinalungan Mayor Tito Tubigan said that the project has also provided alternative source of livelihood to 86 residents of Dibaraybay, each of whom receives a daily pay of Php213.

Calub said that the May 2009 incident when the rebels burned the plantation could have been the turning point for the project. "It was one of the project’s biggest setbacks. But somehow, it also turned out as a blessing because the chopped tree trunks grew bigger and better," he said.

Curiously, the incident also signaled the beginning of the end of the underground movement in the province. Residents protested the incident, resulting in a series of concerted actions which culminated in the declaration of the entire province as insurgency-free nine months later. (Jason de Asis)

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