Water hyacinth venture brings livelihood, peace

Posted on June 13, 2012

PIGCAWAYAN, NORTH COTABATO -- True to their pursuit, a couple in this rustic first-class town has proven their worth as "reformers."

REMEGIO P. Matalubos shows organic fertilizer with water hyacinth. -- RSS
They live ordinary lives, a hint of affluent lifestyle glaringly absent as they go on with their daily routine at the farming village of Barangay Capayuran.

Remegio and Julie Matalubos have been drawing in conflict-affected communities in the fringes of Liguasan Marsh to pursue peace through an ingenious method: turning the menacing water hyacinth into organic fertilizer.

Water hyacinth is a major headache in Central Mindanao and in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. An estimated 20 hectares of water hyacinth accumulated last year along the Rio Grande de Mindanao, causing massive flooding in Cotabato City and the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao. The floods forced tens of thousands of people to evacuation centers with agricultural damage estimated at P332 million.

But for the couple, water hyacinths -- rather than a curse -- should be considered a source of hope to alleviate poverty and help establish peace in conflict-affected communities.

The husband and wife team run the Grassroots Integral Development Initiative (GIDI) Natural Organic Fertilizer as part of their missionary work in the area.

Describing themselves as "reformers," Mr. Matalubos said their venture involves the participation of rebels belonging to either the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the Moro National Liberation Front.

"We coordinate with the commanders of both groups to gather water hyacinths in the Liguasan Marsh… Some of the laborers are Moro rebels," he said.

GIDI sources the water hyacinth from at least seven communities within the marsh, particularly in the towns of Pigcawayan and Midsayap.

"It’s a big help to the community. It brings not only productivity but also unity among the residents," Mr. Matalubos said.

Zayda Indayla, one of the suppliers of water hyacinth, cited GIDI as a social enterprise that work well for the community, having involved several families.

"It tremendously helped in making the communities peaceful. There’s not much trouble because people earn incomes," Ms. Indayla said, noting that theft or robbery incidents have been reduced as residents have become productive.

GIDI’s organic venture also benefits persons with disabilities who are hired in the production process, said Ms. Indayla, the wife of a soldier.

Children as young as 12 years old, with the consent of their parents, are also involved in the water hyacinth production chain.

"They seem to enjoy gathering the water hyacinths in the marsh. To them it’s like playing because they also swim," Ms. Indayla said.

A dried water hyacinth fetches P60 per sack. Water hyacinth is the major component (about 60%-70%) of the organic fertilizer that GIDI produces. It is mixed with other organic materials like guano and phosphate rocks.

Other ingredients are also abundant in North Cotabato, said Mr. Matalubos, noting the reserves have largely remained untapped for a century.

"There are 17 caves in the province, and we have only tapped three caves where we can get 200 bags from each daily," he said.

GIDI Natural Organic Fertilizer is a high-grade natural organic fertilizer made up of water hyacinth compost and century-old guano mined from the caves, a product briefer said. It has high organic matter contents capable of supplying complete nutrients needed by a plant, it added.

The briefer also noted that the plant improves the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. GIDI sells the water hyacinth organic fertilizers for P250 per bag.

Mr. Matalubos, who formulated the mixture, said their main buyers so far are banana and sugar plantations operating in different provinces in Mindanao. The production plant is capable of producing at least 10,000 bags of organic fertilizers from water hyacinth a month.

The government, through the Department of Science and Technology, has extended technical and financial assistance to enhance the operation of GIDI. Using the water hyacinth organic fertilizers, GIDI also embarks on vermin-composting, which it sells at a much higher price of up to P400 per sack.

Mr. Matalubos said they are glad to be an instrument of peace in North Cotabato. -- Romer S. Sarmiento