Some 40 members of Indigenous Peoples (IP) community in Kitcharao town, Agusan del Norte, have started land preparations for the planting of around 20,000 abaca suckers in the area.

Annelyn Chan, the project coordinator of Project Converge of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Agusan del Norte (DAR-ADN), said the Zapanta Mamanwa-Manobo Association (ZAMMA) in Barangay Bangayan, Kitcharao, is one of the organizations being assisted by the agency in the province.

Top photo: ABACA PRODUCTION. Members of the Zapanta Mamanwa-Manobo Association (ZAMMA) start the land preparation for the development of a 10-hectare abaca plantation during the conduct of two-day refresher training on abaca production on July 27-28, 2020 in Barangay Bangayan, Kitcharao town in Agusan del Norte. Most of the farmers are evacuees from armed conflicts brought by the persistent communist rebel presence in the area. (Photo courtesy of DAR-ADN)

Barangay Bangayan is nestled in the area of Zapanta Valley, one of the conflict-affected areas in Agusan del Norte where government interventions are being focused to end the local communist armed conflict in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70 (EO 70).

EO 70 seeks to institutionalize the “whole-of-government” approach in ending the communist rebellion in the countryside.

“The members of ZAMMA recently completed their refresher training on abaca production technology and now they are ready to venture into abaca production,” Chan told Philippine News Agency Wednesday.

Chan said ZAMMA was organized late 2018, particularly when the Mamanwa tribe evacuated from their communities in the hinterlands of Barangay Bangayan due to the presence of the communist New People’s Army rebels.

While inside the evacuation center for almost a month, the intervention of DAR-ADN started in collaboration with the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade of the Army.

Among the interventions include an orientation on government services to communities that led to the formation of their livelihood group.

When they returned to their communities, ZAMMA members started to develop their abaca plants for bigger production.

“We made other interventions to ZAMMA in the middle of 2019 to help them improve their living conditions. It was in the latter part of 2019 that DAR-ADN, through its Project Converge, trained the members of ZAMMA into abaca production technology,” Andre Atega, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer of DAR-ADN said on Wednesday.

Atega said that a 1.5-hectare communal abaca production farm was developed by ZAMMA in the last quarter of 2019 that was provided with PHP100,000 financial aid by DAR-ADN.

Atega said ZAMMA was not able to expand its abaca production especially during the first quarter of 2020 due to the threats of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

“Products from the 1.5-hectare abaca plantation were sold by ZAMMA to other DAR-assisted cooperatives in the area. They wanted to expand their area and increase the production but the risks of the pandemic hindered the delivery of the support during the first quarter of this year,” Atega said.

With the recent loosening of quarantine restrictions in the area, DAR-ADN and other line agencies such as the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), along with the Army’s 29th Infantry Battalion (29IB), managed to deliver the needed services for the members of ZAMMA to pursue the expansion of their abaca plantation.

“The refresher training we conducted with PhilFIDA and 29IB last July 27 to 28 was on-site as the members of ZAMMA actually made the land preparations in the 10-hectare plantation area,” Chan said.

She added that DAR-ADN provided the organization with 20,000 abaca suckers ready for planting with organic fertilizers, ammonium sulfate, herbicide, and fungicide during the actual training and land preparations.

“We are optimistic the Mamanwa tribe in Zapanta Valley, particularly in Barangay Bangayan will be able to sustain the project and free themselves from poverty,” Atega said.

Abaca production, he added, is suitable in the area and a promising agricultural venture for the Mamanwa because of its good price in the market.

“In this time of the pandemic, abaca fiber is one of the important material in making masks and other protective gears. Abaca is in demand in markets,” Atega said.

He said DAR’s Project Converge is eyeing to establish around 100 hectares of abaca plantation in Zapanta Valley this year, with the help of the tribes in the area. (Alexander Lopez, PNA)