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EARNING MORE THROUGH COCONUT FARMING

BENJAMIN LAO • LAO INTEGRATED FARM • DAVAO DEL SUR

The town of Bansalan in fertile Davao del Sur has always been known for its coconut production, but few fanners can match what Benjamin R. Lao has done to make sure that the town keeps its place on the map of top coconut producing municipalities.

Seeing the great potential of agricultural products, Benjamin decided to take an early retirement from his government post to concentrate on farming. He knew what to do as he has worked on a farm since childhood.

His father has a farm in Digos, Davao and that was where Benjamin put in his first hours of hard labor on a farm and gained his first knowledge on how to successfully grow crops.

He put this lifelong knowledge, as well as new skills he learned through research, consultation with experts from both the national and local government offices, to practice in his own five-hectare plantation that he had inherited from his parents.

Thus, what once was a low-producing coconut plantation that produced about 400 nuts every three months now chalks up an output of as much as 15,000 nuts a quarter – all thanks to his innovations to put together a paradise of successful integrated farming.

His farm in Davao del Sur has eventually become an example for other farmers to learn from, and earned for him the title of outstanding Coconut Farmer for 2008.

Benjamin recalls that one of the first things he did was to adopt the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology he learned from seminars sponsored by the Department of Agriculture.

The technology called for the planting of nitrogen-fixing plants to stop soil erosion in the rolling portions of his farm. The plants not only helped keep his land together, the extra nutrients also led to the increase in the production of his existing coconut trees.

He also planted 250 durian seedlings within the coconut farm, and these helped make his land more fertile and the land more stable. Other fruit-bearing trees later added variety to his farm.

With all the trees, it made sense for him to expand into livestock, starting with some Anglo-Nubians, and later, swine.

Later, he set up a processing area to add value to his produce, and his new products include coco sugar, coco honey, durian candies and jam as well as goat's milk ice cream.

The Philippine Coconut Authority provided him with the technology to produce coconut sugar and coco honey. He also gives credit to the Departments of Science and Technology, Trade and Industry, Environment and Agrarian Reform for helping him with product development.

To maintain his 24-hour operation, Benjamin has 12 workers helping him on the processing side. He sells his products at his farm and he also has an outlet in Bansalan.

And because his products are of good quality, they have found their way into markets in the cities of Digos, General Santos, Butuan, Metro Manila and as far as the United States and Canada.

With his imagination and ingenuity, it goes without saying that more is in store for Benjamin and for the town that proudly calls him its own.

DA TIPS

Farm waste, such as animal manure, coconut farm byproducts that are easily found in the farmers' backyard, can be a source of organic fertilizer. Aside from their nutritional value, organic fertilizer helps improve the soil's physical and chemical conditions, thus providing better water retention and soil aeration.