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Lanao villagers weave bright future.

MYRNA Unabia used to start her day cooking rice or boiling root crops for her family's meal. She would tend her garden or collect copra, but she would often stay idle at home.

Roughly a year ago, Unabia, 34, included rolling a twining machine among her chores, producing 50 to 60 rolls of coco twine a day. Every Saturday, the rolls are bought at a processing center, which is also delivering the coir she uses for twining.

Coco coir is produced from coconut husks, which used to be just strewn around the vast coconut fields of Barangay Malingao in Tubod, Lanao del Norte province. Almost all of Malingao's land area of 600 hectares is planted with coconut, says its village chief, Leoncio Bagol.

The local cooperative has found a way to make productive use of the waste, and households are slowly turning it into a promising enterprise. Today, the husks are collected by a truck weekly and delivered to the coco coir-processing center of Malingao Community Service Multipurpose Cooperative (MCOCO).

Unabia, a mother of five, is among the 300 villagers supplying the twine, earning P1,200 to P1,800 per week. This project has been a great relief to us. Now we can earn at the comfort of our own homes, she said. I can easily shell out money when my children have school needs.

Another resident, Rachel Juaskin, 33, has progressed from coco twining to weaving geonets, which are made from coco twine bought by MCOCO. Geonets are being used by agencies, such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, for areas that need slope protection.

I applied as a weaver in the (processing) plant after I took part in the training, said Juaskin, whose husband also works at the cooperative as a truck driver.

I am really thankful for this project because it gave us an opportunity to earn. Before, the women here used to just gossip. But now, every Saturday, they look forward to a sure income, said Juaskin, who earns P200 a day for weaving geonets, which can be finished in three days.

She used to sell snack food, which did not ensure a steady income, she said.

A roll of geonet measures a foot and 50 meters long and is sold at P1,850. Demand for geonets has been increasing, said MCOCO operations manager Cerilo Apao. As long as there is no power interruption, we can produce up to 70 rolls (of geonets) per month, he said.

The cooperative is also producing baled fiber from the half of the coco coir that is not made into geonets. Baled fiber is used as a raw material for furniture.

Seventy bundles of baled fiber are produced weekly, and the majority of which is exported to a Chinese buyer, Apao said. Buyers also come from Surigao, Manila, and nearby provinces.

Cooperative records showed that geonet production rose from five rolls in May 2014 to 50 rolls in September, while baled fiber output jumped from 1,800 kilograms to 3,200 during the period.

MCOCO is a recipient of one of the big-ticket livelihood projects under the Mindanao Rural Development Program. The P3.5-million funding support was used to build the processing center and to acquire the machine used to process the husks into fiber, the baling machine for the baled fiber, the weaving devices, and a vehicle to transport and collect the fibers to and from households.

Part of the fund was used to purchase twining machines for a few households. After the Department of Trade and Industry learned of the project's potential, more than 200 twining machines were added to benefit 300 households, even including those outside Malingao.

We really provided equity for this project because we have seen its impact in the community, Bagol said. Even other barangays want to participate and are requesting twining machines from us.

Aside from providing jobs, Bagol said the growth of the enterprise resulted in a reduction of petty crimes, like theft.

He is optimistic about the entry of the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP), which has identified coconut as one of the priority commodities for enterprise development ventures.

We have so many orders and we can't keep up with the demand. We hope that with the PRDP, we can provide more twining machines and build another processing facility to keep up with the demand, Bagol said.

Through Lanao del Norte's local government unit and the provincial agriculture office, MCOCO submitted a business proposal that aims to expand production to meet the demand for coconut by-products.

To make the product more competitive, it acquired quality certification from the Department of Science and Technology. The PRDP proposal also includes developing coco peat (dust from processed fiber) into organic fertilizer.

For Juaskin and Unabia, the project expansion is good news to other households not only in Malingao but in other villages. I hope this project continues to prosper so that we can sustain our livelihood, Juaskin said.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Sep 6, 2015
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