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Rough Cuts | Davao City’s top agenda after CoViD 19

Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio has optimized the citys agriculture as one of her ten priority programs, a covenant she entered into with her constituents during her first State of the City Address in her current term.

That she may have been distracted in her pursuit of making good her promise because of the effect of the CoViD 19 global pandemic is not a remote possibility. But we are certain that Davao City under Mayor Saras watch will be able to successfully deliver itself from total perdition due to the health emergency. And when the pandemic is finally over, perhaps it is time to revisit a proposal made by a Malaysian company during the incumbency of her father then mayor and now President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte.

The Malaysian companys proposal was to convert a huge portion of the uplands of Paquibato district into an oil palm plantation where residents including the insurgent New Peoples Army (NPA), if they are willing, can be partners in the venture. Under the proposal the Malaysian conglomerate will open the plantation, develop the area by building more roads, build an oil extracting mill, tap the residents for labor or as planters, and the rebels either as laborers or security providers.

The last words we heard about the proposal was that the NPAs were reportedly cool to the idea and some environmentalist groups were against it because converting the uplands into an oil palm plantation will result to the deterioration of the environment as there will allegedly be massive erosion of the soil in the areas being developed.

However, there are certain developments that might just effectively address the issues relative to the agricultural venture in that so-called last frontier of Davao City. One is the likelihood the peace negotiation with the rebels by the government of President Duterte will eventually resume after several dismaying abortions. The other is the addressable problem of environmental degradation of the Paquibato area. Meaning, if the city government will allow for such large scale plantations it has to craft and impose regulations that must be strictly followed by the Malaysian investor, or whoever is willing to sink in money for the purpose of cashing in on Davaos booming economy, before the pandemic, and hopefully after.

We believe that should Mayor Sara consider this venture the entire district of Paquibato can easily become a beneficiary of the so-called inclusive development. People in that district will have more job opportunities right in their own yard. They can also choose to become entrepreneurs if they agree to become planters themselves and sell their produce to the oil mill that the Malaysian company will be putting up in the area.

As a consequence, the city also stands to improve its revenue from the lands in Paquibato district which as of today are assessed with hardly a credible value because of insurgency-related incidents in the place.

And when more roads are opened Paquibatos highlands will also become easily accessible for trade. Lowlanders will have no more difficulty in selling goods to the uplands, and at the same time residents in the area will have easy access to the markets for their products in the citys urban center.

Perhaps the bigger benefit that will accrue to the area is that peace will surely reign in the place. Isnt it that when there are regular sources of income for the people peace is not far behind? Isnt it that when people have legitimate sources of money and they can afford the basic things in life they become less vulnerable to doing criminal activities and as easy prey to the enticement by the purveyors of other ideologies?

On the other hand, another option that the administration of Mayor Inday Sara can take is to offer any available huge tract of government-owned lands to be developed into large cacao plantations. The lands can be leased by the city in cooperation with the national government to interested big-time cacao investors who will plant, and process the produce for local and international markets. We learned from sources in the agriculture sector that the world demand for cacao beans is so huge and the Philippines share is not yet even reaching five percent.

What is annoying now is that most of the cacao beans harvested in Davao City are procured in bulk not by Filipino companies but by American, Singaporean and Malaysian groups that are tapping local people to aggregate the cacao produce of individual farmers.

And these bulk cacao beans buyers may not even be paying the city any form of business taxes. All they do is rent a compound with facilities for warehousing. Their local buyers go around the city and nearby provinces to negotiate with prospective sellers of cacao harvest dried or wet. The local hires stock the dried beans inside rented bodegas and dry the wet ones in the drying facility inside the compound.

When the volume is shippable the dried beans are placed inside container vans and loaded in ocean-going vessels en-route to its international markets.

So, if the city is really serious in helping improve its agriculture, the time to intervene is now. It has to adopt radical strategies such as determining which area suits cacao or mangos or oil palm. And if it is within its jurisdiction, lease the land to any interested corporate farming investor for their use.

And there has to be a mechanism that will ensure the participation of the people in the area so as to give meaning to the inclusive development mantra of the government.

Maybe our lady mayor can take this up with her economic planners and do the strategy even on a demonstration farm basis.
And it should be her top agenda when the city is freed from the problems brought about by the CoViD 19 pandemic. What do you think Madam Mayor?

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