His name is Mr. Benjamin Lao- Uncle Ben as he is fondly called, from Barangay Eman, Bansalan, Davao del Sur. Realizing that his heart is really into farming, He left a very cushy job at the Bureau of Immigration in 1998 and set out to develop a 5-hectare piece of land that he inherited. It was a big hurdle at the start as the land was rocky and full of cogon grass. It did not have any roads!
With his determination to succeed (and his love of farming), Uncle Ben did research and sought the help of experts both in private and government sectors to find ways to develop his land into an organic farm. He went to MBRLC where he learned and applied the SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology). His Land being full of coconut trees, he went to the PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority) where he was advised to add value to and not just rely on copra in his farm. There he learned the potentials of coconut sugar and coconut syrup production.
Today, Lao Integrated Farms Inc. produces coconut sugar and coconut syrup and exports them to markets in U.S., Australia, The U.K. and Europe. Another product -- the coconut based teriyaki all dip sauce is also a hit abroad. The farm has earned various local and international organic and safety certifications. Locally, it has a NICERT organic certification. It is also certified by no less than the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as by ECOCERT of France. It is also certified kosher by PAREVE of Israel. TÜV SUD of Germany gave the HACCP certification that assures consumers that stringent measures are being taken to assure food safety.
Lao Integrated Farms Inc. has created a big impact on the local community as it provides jobs to 86 employees to date and some 132 coconut sap gatherers (mananggete in local language). Their lives have vastly improved that in fact, almost all the sap gatherers have their own motorcycles to transport their harvested coconut sap to the processing plant.
Service and charity has always been a priority to Uncle Ben so he partnered with various institutions in a lot of community service projects. Being an advocate of organic farming, Lao Integrated Farms Inc. gives lectures and farm tours for free to visitors at the farm. The immediate vicinity has also benefited since Uncle Ben spearheaded and funded the development of a water system that provides water to all households near the farm. He promotes the local culture of the Bagobo tribe that lives in the vicinity by building a place where they sell their handicrafts. He also hosts a radio program -- "Don't Panic, It's Organic!" that airs everyday on local radio stations all over Mindanao.
With all these accomplishments, Uncle Ben still has his feet firmly in the ground. He can still be seen tending to his farm everyday- with a bolo tucked in his waist.
For him, life as a farmer is sweet indeed.