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by Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” F. Piñol
Chairman, MinDA

Antipas, a small town in Arakan Valley, Cotabato Province, used to be a bustling center of trade in the area when a huge multi-national banana corporation employed thousands in the Cavendish Banana plantations.

When Sumifru, a Japanese multi-national corporation, shut down its operations, the economy of the town suffered and it went back to its former economic level - poor.

As the landowners of previously leased banana farms tried to pick up the pieces, a group of women in one of the villages, Barangay Malangag, started a backyard industry by planting glutinous corn (Malagkit) in the former banana areas to produce a crunchy snacks called "ChichaCorn."

The corn was grown organically adding value to the unique product of crunchy Organic corn with a little salt and fried Garlic.

They were assisted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) with a working capital under the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program when I was Agriculture Secretary and supported by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate missionaries who operated a mission farm in the mountain village.

The market responded enthusiastically to the healthy alternative to the crunchy but fatty Chicharon which is made out of pork skin and a favorite snacks of many Filipino families.

As the popularity of the "ChichaCorn" grew, a Thai snacks food manufacturer wanted to order 40 containers every month which meant that the women led by Florencia Galinato of the Galilee Rural Improvement Club had to plant more glutinous corn to fill up the order.

Planting was not a problem but storing and drying were the biggest challenge.

"There were times when we had to feed some of our corn to hogs because it was attacked by weevils when we failed to dry it," said Galinato, fondly called "Manay Olong" by people in the area.

Yesterday, six months after I checked on the status of the project which were implemented when I was DA Secretary, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), the agency which I now head, turned over P1-M for a mechanical dryer that the group needs.

During the turn-over of the check to Malangag Barangay Chairman Jimmy Carias, I suggested to Chairman Carias and Manay Olong that the project be expanded and developed into an industry.

I issued a directive to the MinDA staff led by Director Joey Recimilla and Area Management Officer Jun Buhat that the "ChichaCorn" Industry of Antipas be included in the list of projects to be assisted under the MINPAD Rise Program funded by the European Union Delegation and implemented by MinDA through the German Development Agency, GIZ.

The development plan now includes the establishment of a Grains Silo where the farmers could keep their seasonal Malagkit Corn harvest so that there would be sufficient raw materials for the "ChichaCorn" during the off-season for corn.

A modern packaging facility will also be established in the area so that what would come out from Malangag would be beautifully packaged Snacks which would now go straight to the Supermarkets and even the export market.

The vision now is to make "ChichaCorn" making a major agricultural industry in Antipas town and maybe the whole of Arakan Valley.

When realized, it could benefit hundreds of farmers, provide jobs to women in the communities and most of all, stir the local economy back to life again.

MinDA believes that local homegrown industries are what the Mindanao needs to trigger a faster economic recovery and start an inclusive and internally-drive economic growth.

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