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The OceanaGold Story: Bridging the Mining and Agriculture Gap
By Maria Paula Tolentino
During a visit to Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippine Resources Journal was able to take a five-day immersion in one of the country’s biggest gold producers, OceanaGold Philippines Inc’s Didipio Mine. In Issue 3, the Journal discussed the educational legacy the mining company is initiating at Brgy. Didipio, the objective of which is to develop and strengthen the human potential of its residents.
During this trip, the Journal was also able to witness firsthand the sustainable livelihood programs OceanaGold put together for the community.
One of the most pressing issues Kasibu has was the lack of job opportunities–low income, lack of education and exposure to small-scale mining. But this all started to change even before OceanaGold started its operations.
Take for instance the story of Rosanna Lawagan, a resident of Brgy. Didipio, who is also the President of Didipio Producers Cooperative (DIPCO). Her husband, Elmer, previously a small-scale miner, now works cohesively with Rosanna to boost the vegetable and hog raising business OceanaGold initiated for their community.
Together with the company’s External Affairs Supervisor, MJ Josue, and Communications Advisor (IEC) Jury Baguilat, Rosanna extensively discussed with the group how exactly the community has been able to not only survive but thrive through this cooperative.
As a preemptive move to ensure food self-sufficiency and to provide additional income for the community farmers, OceanaGold, through its Social Development Management Program (SDMP), has committed to revive a vegetable-growing program launched years ago through the establishment of cooperatives with the production of high-value crops in the village hosting the mining operation.
“For the past few months or so, hog raising and production have been the bulk of our income. It is only now that we are reaping the benefits of our vegetable production since it usually takes a while before vegetables can be produced.”
On vegetable production, the farmers individually plant their own crops then sell the produce to OceanaGold.
“If there is an excess, we sell the produce in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. The program is still in its infancy stage since we just started in October 2016” says Lawagan.
“For hog raising and production, we’ve already undergone two cycles. Within our community alone, we have already produced 120 pigs. These pigs are what we use in community weddings, Christmas parties and other special occasions, which is also paid by OceanaGold. The bulk of food in the OceanaGold commissary is supplied by a combination of both the local farmers, our cooperative and some farmers from the outside. The objective of OceanaGold behind this cooperative is for the association to be the main food supplier while employing local farmers at the same time.”
When asked about the complaint against OceanaGold being the reason agricultural life in Nueva Vizcaya has dwindled, Lawagan says this is a lie. She clarifies that the area where OceanaGold mines is “not an agricultural area. No vegetables nor root crops can be grown, more so, harvested!” She mentions that because of this project, the whole community benefits.
“If you compare the income of the farmers now, they are most likely to make more money if it’s sold within the community rather than going to the city and selling them there. Expenses such as transportation and food are minimized.”
Based on 2015 Socio-Economic Assessment conducted by University of the Philippines Los Banos Foundation, it indicates that the average monthly household income in Didipio is P19,380 as compared to the national average income which is P17,166 and poverty threshold P18,935.
The ongoing challenges though is the weather and the inconsistent number of buyers. According to Lawagan, the erratic influx of buyers is a foreseen challenge since some crops that are not bought will have to be sold in the city.
OceanaGold, recognizing the role of cooperatives in propelling economic development in the countryside, spent more than P5 million last year from its social development management funds to support enterprise development and agricultural projects. The company currently has 10 cooperatives in the communities, one for each barangay.
With over 96 members as of July 2017, the Didipio Farmers Cooperative is now set up for ongoing trainings such as how to effectively run a cooperative, education on gardening and hog raising, vermiculture, etc. Though the group is lenient where they farm, the co-op is particular on the kind of vegetables they grow.
When asked if the farming and hog raising initiative of OceanaGold can sustain a household, Lawagan says it absolutely can!
The main goal has always been financial independence for the community. OceanaGold provided Php2M worth of seed money to set up the cooperative.
According to Lawagan, other projects include growing fruit-bearing trees, vermiculture and creating kudzu, a plant variety that prevents soil erosion.
“Currently, we are working on a new contract with OceanaGold: Gloves. We intend to have used gloves recycled, washed, packed then sold again to OceanaGold.”
Aside from the SDMP fund distributed to the barangays covered by the mining company, OceanaGold created DiCorp so that individuals/communities who are not able to benefit from the employment provided by OceanaGold, have DiCorp.
With a focus on farmers, DiCorp currently holds a fruits and vegetables contract so that there is constant innovation under the organization.
According to Procurement Supervisor Alfred Dumingyay, “Though we prioritize all agricultural products of Didipio, these still have to pass the standards of our client (OGPI).”
Under the farmers cooperative handled by Lawagan, the members pass on to DiCorp all their produce where DiCorp hands it directly to OGPI.
“If we compare what happened before, the only source of income was farming. Now, the co-op is able to generate job opportunities, included is the ability to provide training. Despite its humble beginnings, DiCorp is expanding and the business model is being replicated by other mining companies” says Dumingyay.
But what makes DiCorp so unique? Sales and Distribution Supervisor Kimberly Guimbangan says: “We can only hear about community corporations in other countries. DiCorp is not a family corporation where stockholders are minimal. Currently, we have 400 members and growing!”
The jobs generated in DiCorp include catering employment, housekeeping, camp management, laundry, transport services, solid waste management, and construction services.
Grocery stores have also started to open which are now supplying not only to those within the community but also those located outside.
Most of the individuals employed under DiCorp have helped in the construction of the OGPI medical facility. The people under DiCorp are priority employment.
DiCorp, owned and managed by 393 bonafide long term residents of Didipio (minimum of 10 years residency at incorporation) that we funded and trained, generated around Php994 million gross revenue from long-term Didipio Mine Contracts from 2011 to 2016.
DiCorp is independent of OceanaGold. “Between OGPI and DiCorp, the best term to use is business partner. As business partners, the company and DiCorp have a consistent open communication. Versus being a contractor where deliverables are rendered based on the contract, there is more autonomy for DiCorp” says Dumingyay.
“Agriculture cannot go alone without the support of mining products and services. Although we cannot remove the fact that there will be carbon footprint from mining, there are mitigating measures to lessen this. While being partners with our stakeholders is crucial, associations such as DiCorp is more than enough proof that agriculture and mining can not only co-exist but can actually thrive!” concludes Dumingyay.