LA CASTELLANA – They used to be on opposing sides, fighting each other for land for almost a decade, but they are now united because of the sugar block farming program of the Departments of Agrarian Reform and Agriculture, as well as the Sugar Regulatory Administration.
Agrarian reform beneficiaries who are former workers of landowner Bob Cuenca and members of Task Force Mapalad, have banded together to form the Hacienda Malaga Cuenca Agrarian Reform Cooperative (MACARBEN), that is now one of the 16 agrarian reform beneficiaries organizations in southern Negros alone, who are recipients of the sugarcane block farming project of the government.
The sugar block farm project aims to improve the productivity of sugarcane farms. It is managed by agrarian reform beneficiaries organizations, who are provided with proper trainings and equipment to sustain their operations, under the Accelerated and Sustainable Anti-Poverty Program of the DAR, DA and SRA.
Stephen Leonidas, regional director of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Western Visayas, said yesterday said that agrarian reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Malaga-Cuenca, Brgy, Robles, La Castellana, experienced and underwent struggles and difficulties, including loss of lives of some of them, for so many years before they succeeded.
Agrarian reform-related violence in Hacienda Malaga-Velez had claimed the lives of four farmer beneficiaries, police records show.
Leonidas said agrarian reform beneficiaries from both sides have realized that it will be more beneficial for them to unite, to avail of the program.
The signing of a memorandum of agreement for the implementation of sugarcane block farming, with 35 agrarian reform organizations as recipients and covering 2,700 hectares, was held yesterday in Hacienda Malaga-Cuenca, that Leonidas said, was a very memorable place for them.
To avail of the program, agrarian reform beneficiaries should have a minimum area of 30 hectares within a two-kilometer radius. This prompted the MACARBEN, with 195 members, excluding 27 non-ARBs, to register as a cooperative in 2009, to avail the project.
Of the 201 hectares covered by three Certificates of Land Ownership Awards, 114 hectares have been leased back to the former owner in 2008 at P1.95 million annually.
Under the program, Leonidas said the DA provides the budget and technical assistance, while SRA takes charge of the technical aspects such as trainings on high yield variety of sugarcane.
DAR is more concerned with the total effort and institutional aspect, he added.
The budget for the implementation of sugarcane block farming in Negros Occidental will be taken from the P719 million budget of DAR earmarked for the province this year, Leonidas said.
MACARBEN has come a long, long way. In May this year, the cooperative distributed P2.8 million in net surplus and dividends to its members, of which P2.3 million was derived from sugar production and P440,673 from its consumer store.
Aside from micro-lending and sari-sari store services, MACARBEN is also operating its own health center and has scholarship programs for its members, while Cuenca also extended help in managing their financial affairs.
The MOA signatories yesterday, aside from Leonidas, were DA regional director Renato Manantan for Negros Island Region and SRA Manager III Doreta de los Santos. Witnesses were La Castellana Mayor Alberto NIcor, Robles barangay chairman Triffon Joefred Zapanta, and other DAR officials.
Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer 2 Lucresia Taberna, who was among the victims of agrarian reform violence in the hacienda several years ago, said the DAR's effort has finally paid off.
“It's worth dying for”, Taberna said.*GPB