Malaybalay city council: moratorium on agri expansion is here to stay

MALAYBALAY CITY  – The Malaybalay City council did not budge when it ended a series of hearings among agricultural companies related to the resolution it passed in April declaring a moratorium on expansion of agricultural plantations in the city.
City councilor Canuto Barroso, chair of the committees on agriculture and environmental protection, told this reporter via telephone Monday the resolution will stay for “a long time” until the city government ensures protection of its environment and agriculture.
The city council, sitting as a committee as a whole, accommodated representatives from DMPI Monday, a hearing scheduled after about 50 land owners reported about DMPI allegedly refusing to pay them because of the moratorium.
Barroso said DMPI officials clarified there was no such thing and they only needed clarification on about 166 hectares “already contracted” even before April 10, 2012, the day the moratorium took effect.
He added that the city council’s resolution is not retroactive so all lease contracts signed before the moratorium is not covered.
“This does not affect the moratorium. The moratorium holds. No more new contracts should be signed,” he said.
But Barroso said DMPI has to comply with the recommendations of the provincial multi-partite monitoring team after it inspected its area in Imbayao, an upland area where flooding in the lower portion of the city comes from.
Bukidnon News is yet to get a copy of the report but among the findings cited by Barroso include alleged lack of silt trap, no catch basin, and that the area planted is more than 12 percent slope.  The MMT recommended for the firm to put up soil contour measures, to plant trees along embankment among others.

The city council passed the resolution on April 10 citing “environmental and agricultural concerns.” Barroso said last April that the moratorium was in response to complaints from barangay councils against the fast conversion of farms into plantations and its effects on the environment and agricultural practices.

The resolution was unanimously approved after Councilor Medardo Estaniel, the ABC president, gave a privileged speech that echoed the questions raised by the ABC on the unregulated expansion of pineapple and banana plantations.

Barroso said DMPI has appealed that the Malaybalay city council lift its resolution imposing a moratorium on the expansion of agricultural plantations when it appeared before the city council on May 29. Two other agricultural firms appeared on June 5.

Del Monte, Barroso said, cited that they have implemented mitigating measures to address the problems expressed by the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) on agriculture and environment impact, the issue that triggered the moratorium.

Francis Rivera, Del Monte’s environmental and safety manager, told the city council on May 29 that his company is implementing mitigating measures to ensure environmental protection and preservation in accordance with the company’s environmental policy.

Rivera cited, as quoted by local news service Bukidnon News, that they have established longline block ditches, check dams, catchment basins, maintenance of easement creeks, steward program, carbon accounting system, baseline water analysis and other programs implemented by the Del Monte Foundation.

Councilor Roland Deticio, who was among those who filed the resolution, said the city government must conduct further study before altering the moratorium.

He cited the move to create a technical working group to conduct the impact assessment of the plantations on the environment and agriculture condition of the city.

Barroso said there is also a plan to create a city-level multi-partite monitoring team (MMT) apart from the provincial MMT. The MMT is tasked to monitor implementation and compliance of the agricultural firms’ Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

The city council noted the expansion of plantations in barangays Bangcud, Cabangahan, Casisang, Imbayao, Laguitas, Magsaysay, Mapayag and San Jose.

Barroso said the fruit companies would deal directly with the land owners without bothering to obtain the prior consent of the barangay councils and the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO).

He said the resolution came after the committee hearings on the impact of the expansion on the environment and agriculture.

He noted that barangays Mapayag and Imbayao in particular have complained about the expansion.

Barroso said the fruit companies allegedly employed land development practices that tend to damage the environment, such as flattening of slopes to maximize plantation areas.

He added that the CENRO has received complaints that the fruit companies allegedly practice a form of cloud dispersal that drives away rain from a certain area affecting local farmers.

“They have yet to convince us also about their flood control and
damage control systems,” Barroso said, adding the CENRO is yet to form a technical working group to study the actual impact.

Deticio argued then that the resolution must be imposed already while the study is being conducted to stop the fast rate of expansion that endangers the city’s flood control system and food security.
(Walter I. Balane / Bukidnon News)