Some 300 independent coconut farmers in Rizal and Bataraza towns in southern Palawan have received livelihood support from Lionheart Farms as it expands its farm operations.
The farmers are part of the families being supported by the company in 14 barangays on its rosters as it engages in the transformation of the southern part of the province through its community-focused sustainable organic farming practices.
Company president Christian Eyde Moeller said their coconut sap harvesting has helped coconut farmers in Barangays Bunog, Iraan, Punta Baja, Campong Ulay, Ransang, Candawaga, Culasian, Panalingaan, and Taburi in Rizal municipality, and in Sapa, Malitub, Puring, Tagnato, and Buliluyan in Bataraza.
Moeller said their support to the coconut farmers is bringing the benefits of their business model to also explore and help realize the agricultural potentials of the southern part of the province.
“It was Governor (Jose) Alvarez who challenged us to look for ways to bring the benefits of our business model to more people in southern Palawan and help realize its agricultural potentials. We still have a lot of work to do, southern Palawan has a rich biodiversity, so it is our responsibility to really take sustainable agriculture and development to new levels,” Moeller said.
Copra is one of southern Palawan’s main agricultural products. However, because its buying prices continuously drops, copra farmers like Joemarie Olayra of Panalingaan in Rizal continue to face great challenges.
Joemarie, a farm owner in Rizal, has been in the copra business for over 25 years. It was what helped him send his seven children to school.
But due to the inability of the local buying prices to recover from the excessively abundant supply of copra despite government intervention, his family has been affected too.
To cover his losses, he has rented out his farm to Lionheart.
“Yes, we own coconut farms but since 2015, the market price of copra has significantly dropped and our source of living has been affected. We are so thankful that Lionheart Farms came to the rescue,” Joemarie said.
Aida and Jeffrey, Joemarie’s wife and son, are now working for Lionheart Farms as harvesting assistants. They are responsible for handling and recording the harvested sap.
“We benefit most from the company because upon our computation, the rent we get from Lionheart is higher than the buying price of copra. They also gave us job opportunities,” Joemarie said.
“I am just happy because my wife is now 55 years old and yet, the company never hesitated to hire her. It is her first time to be employed with mandated benefits. We couldn’t be happier. Now, we learn organic farming practices and see the benefit of our coconut palms. We learn so much from Lionheart and have much better stability in our life,” he added.
Culasian barangay chairman Ferdinand N. Khu said they appreciate that Lionheart Farms rent farms within their area and that Lionheart chose their barangay to have the processing plant situated which generates more employment to the people.
Khu said that for many years, the locals of Culasian mostly rely on upland farming as their source of living but this practice, in a way, affects the environment.
“Lionheart uplifted our economic status and they unexpectedly became the solution to our environmental problem also because, when our people started to work for them, only a few were left doing upland farming and with that, minimizes the destruction of the environment. Our youth have also been encouraged to go to school because they see themselves as the future employees of this company,” Khu said.
In only four years, Lionheart has become an engine for livelihood development well beyond its direct employment and now reaching new communities.
Rizal mayor Otol Odi said he truly appreciates the impact of the company in the community.
“Lionheart does not only give employment to the community especially to the indigenous people but also extends its help in times of crisis just like the COVID19 pandemic that we are now facing,” he said.
Odi said Lionheart partnered with the local government to give rice and bring development to the whole municipality. They now see that a lot of people are employed and because of this, the families have a more stable source of income.
Lionheart does not only give employment to the community, especially to the indigenous peoples (IPs) but also extends its help in times of crisis just like the COVID19 pandemic that Rizal is now facing, he said.
Odi also said a number of motorcycle suppliers have also put up their branches in different barangays in Rizal because residents can now afford to buy their own, which is alone a sign of progress.
“I remember I had a meeting with a non-government organization and they expressed their desire to close down the operations of Lionheart. However, I stood firm against this because I know it will not be fair and just because the company is able to give thousands of jobs and realize Rizal’s ambition to focus on responsible agroforestry. If they insist on the closure, can they give the same opportunity as much as the company does? Well, I don’t think so,” Odi added.
Lionheart has also partnered with the indigenous community. The majority of Lionheart’s employees are IPs, according to Moeller.
Moeller also said they have newly-established coconut farms in Ransang, Candawaga, and Culasian, which in its early years, was misunderstood by those who did not understand its real commitment to responsible and sustainable development.
When asked about Lionheart Farms’ future in Palawan, Moeller said what they have learned the hard way has made them closer to the people of southern Palawan.
“How can even more people benefit from Lionheart? Well every day, we are training farmers to become part of our farm operations and also reaching out to the community, so people can become suppliers of manure and other ingredients we use in our biofertilizer. We have hundreds of families who earn additional income from being suppliers to us.
And of course, we are always looking for people talent via internal development, but also hiring young people from local universities. For a better future of southern Palawan we must really focus on education, inclusive employment, as well as better management and sustainable value creation locally of our resources,” he said.