Written by Charisma Love B Gado
Ernesto Romero, 76, of Talavera, Nueva Ecija owns a Mercedez Benz, 6-hectare residential lot, and a warehouse with an P11,000 annual mortgage. During the peak of market demands for vegetables, such as green pepper, he earns P200,000 a week.
About 23 km from Romero`s town lives Crisanto lleva, 59 years old. He had built his P50,000-house in Guimba, Nueva Ecija and earns P80,000 in four months from farming.
Both farmers but with opposite gains from their land. With dreams for farmers to be like Romero, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) launched its new campaign, Gusto namin milyonaryo ka, in support to the social contract of President Benigno S. Aquino III with the Filipinos. The social contract encompasses poverty alleviation, food security, higher income, climate change resilience, and employment creation.
Working for a million
Farming for more than 40 years, Lleva said he only gets 20 percent of his income because a bulk of his harvest immediately goes to the middlemen who lent him the money for production cost. When planting comes, he will borrow again. The PhilRice campaign hopes to unburden the farmers from the cycle of debt that had trapped them since they started tilling lands.
Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr, PhilRice executive director, said a gross income of P1 million a hectare per year is possible if farmers optimize their time and farm space.
Out of 365 days in a year, Rasco said that Filipino farmers work for about 110-220 days in growing rice, leaving a “free time” of 145 days.
“If the farmer uses the by-products of rice production such as rice hull and rice straw for producing mushrooms, fertilizer, feeds, and energy, among others, then a million income is attainable. Compare that with the estimated P50,000 per year net profit that a typical farmer typically earns; much below the poverty level,” he said.
In his 4-hectare farm, Romero grows, among others, green pepper, kalamansi, sigarilyas, papaya, banana, malunggay, and sampaguita. Lleva, on the other hand, only plants rice in his 1 hectare. According to Romero, the income in a hectare with diversified high value crops is equivalent to 4-hectare farm planted only with rice.
Also in Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental, farmers were able to buy tricycle, rotavator, motorcycle, and pay their debt when they processed their crops, such as ginger and turmeric into herbal tea and soap.
Reynic Alo, executive director of Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development (MUAD), a federation of organizations helping the Negros farmers, said that diversifying crops and agri-enterprise are needed for growers to earn more.
“Production alone cannot improve farming; business does. When we say poverty alleviation, we have to compute the expenses and income; increase the inflow and sustain it,” he said.
Encircling the link
Under the Gusto namin milyonaryo ka campaign, diversified farming and agri-business ventures will be promoted through nucleus estates across the country starting from 10 PhilRice stations. Ronan Zagado, campaign lead, said nucleus estates will be put up to give farmers access to support services they need to increase their farm productivity and profitability. Among the services that the nucleus will offer include training, input, custom services, modern support technologies, product development and packaging, and marketing.
This campaign strategy, he said, will complement the current agricultural extension system in the country that is limited by too much focus on technology transfer; failing to consider the dynamics and complexity of farming as an agribusiness venture.
“The nucleus estates will include farms that integrate rice with high-value crops and livestock. The economics of these estates are calculated, based on the assumption that with the availability of investments, market, technologies, and institutional support, a gross of one million pesos earning is not far-fetched to achieve,” he said.
In creating nucleus estates, Zagado emphasized that there is a transition from an individual approach to an integrated or collective approach as farmers need help in reaching the value chain.
PhilRice in Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija had experienced the impact of nucleus estates. Dr. Jose Manuel Regalado, deputy executive director for research, recalled that there were only 18 seed centers in Muñoz in 1995. Today, there are 500 seed centers operating around the PhilRice neighborhood, supplying quality seeds to farmers not only in the province but across the country.
With this change in the community, Muñoz became the ‘seed capital’ of the country and a “science city.” The growing seed industry in the area, Regalado said, can be apparently attributed to the role played by PhilRice as a nucleus or provider for basic, foundation, and certified seeds in the country.
Production may not be enough for farmers to be millionaire and that nucleus estates are needed for successful diversified farming and agribusiness.
“To create a greater impact, the country needs thousands of ‘nuclei, which can be established through partnerships with state universities, technical vocational schools, and more significantly, the private sector,” Zagado said.
With extra work and good agri-business support, farmers endlessly borrowing money will come to pass. The M in farmer will then means millionaire.