COTABATO CITY: A model communal farm is thriving in Barangay Limook in Lamitan City, Basilan within the 1,127-hectare agricultural estate awarded in 1994 to 375 Muslim and Christian farm workers through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The plantation once belonged to former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile who acquired it when he was defense secretary during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
It is now a booming communal enterprise of which the agrarian reform beneficiaries are very proud.
The Enrile-owned Cocoland Development Corp., covering arable lands is now a cooperative run by farmers propagating coffee, rubber, and bananas. Some members of the cooperative also produce rice from small patches of rain-fed fields inside the plantation.
Edilberto Martinez, manager of Lamitan Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (Larbeco), said the productivity in the plantation has been improving since 2012 as a result of the continuing socio-economic and infrastructure support from the local government unit, the agrarian reform and public works department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“We can now transport our farm products to the markets on time because the concrete roads connecting the center of our farming operations to the trading sites and more roads in adjacent barangay (villages) where we do trading activities have also be concreted,” Martinez said.
He added they are also optimistic about an increase in communal trading activities outside of the island province of Basilan with the recent completion by the ARMM regional government of a P150 million “roll on, roll off” seaport in nearby Barangay Kulaybato.
Lamitan City, with 45 barangays, is now the capital of Basilan, a component province of ARMM that covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Martinez said the tranquility in the surroundings of their cooperative farms is also one factor in their good harvests in the past four years.
“Our LGU and the ARMM government are not just helping us produce more, but are both trying to connect us to the markets outside of Lamitan City,” he said.
Lamitan Mayor Rose Furigay said Larbeco is a model cooperative whose members are struggling to show to other local communal farming blocs that it is possible to rise from poverty in spite of armed conflict as long as communities get adequate support from government agencies and other benefactors.
Meanwhile, Chief Insp. Allan Benasing, city police chief, said there has been no record of heinous crime in the Larbeco farmlands in the past five years.
“There were only some minor incidents there like quarrels among intoxicated farmers but they reconciled the next day. Just petty issues,” Benasing said.
Martinez said the massive infrastructure investments of the ARMM in Lamitan during the last four years that helped boost their production.
Furigay added the ARMM government had spent more than P1 billion for farm-to-market roads, bridges, health facilities and schools in Lamitan during the period.