Bright Prospects for Oil Palm Looms, Region-XII Growers Sow Seeds of Change

oil palm fruitMAKILALA, KIDAPAWAN CITY – All stakes are high when one is into farming. To most farmers, choosing the right commodity would mean to win or lose a great deal of time, effort and monetary matters invested on a farming venture.

Mainstream commodities such as rice, corn, vegetables as well as fruits are undoubtedly the top choice of most farmers’ since it readily ensures them a generous return of investment should they have a bountiful harvest.    

The Commodity

Oil Palm on the other hand shows a strong promise in terms of its viability as a cash crop. To date, Oil Palm is a valuable crop which can provide major source of employment. It allows many small-scale farmers and landholders to participate in the cultivation of this crop which often results in the upgrade of infrastructures and ultimately the economic and social status boost of the growers.

There are a lot of uses for the Palm Oil ranging from the benefits it gives to our health, to our living condition and also to our environment. As food, it is cholesterol-free; rich just like the renowned Olive Oil but surprisingly less-expensive. Also, Palm Oil contains one of the most powerful anti-oxidants nature has to offer like carotene and vitamin E that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and cataract. Studies also show that to produce one unit of biodiesel, Palm Oil uses much less fossil oil as compared to other oils.
A healthy Oil Palm tree bears its fruit in bunches varying in weight from 10 to 40 kg. The individual fruit which ranges from 6 to 20 grams are made up of an outer skin (the exocarp), a pulp (mesocarp) which is fibrous; a central nut consisting of a shell (endocarp); and the kernel, which itself contains oil.
Unlike other palm relatives, the oil palm does not produce offshoots; propagation is done by sowing the seeds.
 

One Man Show

Meet Mr. Antonio Balagot or Manong Tony as he is fondly called, a former Provincial Agriculturist of the Province of Cotabato who took his chance in propagating Oil Palm. It was an uphill climb at first for Manong Tony whose knowledge about Oil Palm was limited; leave alone his expertise on the said commodity. He found it difficult to single-handedly manage his palm plantation since at the time of the farm’s inception, there were no palm growers around with whom he can made reference to in terms of the commodity’s best farming practices.

The lack of expertise didn’t faze Manong Tony to expand his palm plantation. Coupled with his initiative and connections, he sought help online and outside his community in order to further his knowledge and expertise on Oil Palm. It was his online encounter with a French scientist – analyst who rekindled the optimism in him and even bid to pay him a visit and assess the kind of Oil Palm variety he had on his plantation since the latter happens to be an expert on Oil Palm.
 
It seems the hands of fate were in favor to Manong Tony since the LGUs of Makilala and the Provincial Government of Cotabato showed interest in venturing to Oil Palm and was all support to promote it and widen its reach to other palm growers. This was attested by putting up a 9-hectare nursery which is the current repository of 250,000 Oil Palm seedlings with which sells P220 per seedling.

In one of our conversations, Manong Tony said that a seedling must undergo three months of pre-nursery stage and seven months of nursing stage to go through a series of process from variety sorting to tagging. It is when the seedlings reach its tenth month to one year that they are ready to be sold for planting.  

The market for the Oil Palm seedlings are members of the Arakan Valley Complex, Inc., established cooperatives, big companies as well as other small buyers. Manong Tony emphasized that to ascertain the market is crucial to prevent cost of rearing the seedlings.
 

Best Farming Practices   

If administered with the right best agricultural practices, a one-hectare of Oil Palm farm can yield 39 to 42 tons of fruit bunches. It is on its first three years that an Oil Palm farm needs deliberate care. Complete fertilizers along with other micro nutrients must be administered every 3 months to achieve optimum growth and development of the oil palm.
Irrigation is also vital for the plantation’s sustenance since oil palm needs sufficient water. A location which has frequent rainfall is advantageous. However, it needs an open area where it can get maximum amount of sunlight.
 
Oil Palm is one of the few plants who do not require insecticides, pesticides or any chemical that may harm the environment as well as its insect pollinators. These insect pollinators are needed in the plantation since they are the ones responsible for pollination to take place. Without pollination the female flowers will produce fruits that are useless because it will not mature into nuts.
 
In terms of pest management, the common recurring pest is the Rhinoceros beetle. The means to get rid of this beetle is through biological control with which fungus are being spread all throughout the farm to serve as “parasite” to the said pest. Another variation is by placing a trap made out of sawdust for the beetle to lay its eggs. The sawdust containing beetle eggs are collected and burnt to prevent the beetles from propagating. The last remedy against the Rhinoceros beetle is through the use of pheromones which act as beetle repellent; however, this practice is not recommended to small-scale palm growers since it is expensive and viewed as not practical.
 
Having an oil palm plantation also ensures of a ready buyer, with the demand for its products and by-products, processors and millers look for growers to contract out. These processors and millers also ensure that the produce they are buying or contracting come from a legitimate grower which make Oil Palm a “protected crop” since the millers require necessary papers before buying it.

The beauty of Oil Palm is that as it grows older the yield gets greater until it reaches its peak which is 18 years. After this the yield decreases until reaches its maximum lifespan of 25 years. At 20 years, new Oil Palms can be planted in between spaces as replacement for the older tress.
 

Sowing the Seeds of Change
After spending nine years abroad in Canada and the USA as OFW, Ms. Aida Blanco decided to come home to the Philippines to give Oil Palm farming a try. It was her previous experience with other cash crops such as mango and rubber that made her decide to stick solely on Oil Palm.  She was able to compare the great difference of income which she can derive from Oil Palm than in mango or rubber.
 
To date, she is now being considered as one of the top Oil Palm growers after a successful management of her 20 hectare farm with which each five hectare produces 500 tons. At times, Ms. Blanco enjoys a hefty harvest since the palm variety she had on her farm are of hybrid.
 
Ms. Blanco is also into vermiculture. This undertaking is also beneficial since it provided her farm a constant supply of natural fertilizer which is a by-product of African worms. The home-grown fertilizer is being used to enrich the soil in her farm.
Likewise, farmers of Antipas in Cotabato under the leadership of their local government executive and nearby municipalities are now into Oil Palm growing and they have been encouraging other farmers to go into Oil Palm, because they themselves have proven that a farmer can earn a steady income in Oil Palm. (Vic Thor Palarca with reports from Ms. Antonieta J. Arceo and Ms. Maui B. Cosico)