Farm mechanization in the Philippines is fast gaining ground but there is a need to strengthen the human resource capacities to ensure that investments in the farm machines are maximized.
That was the message of Jose Luis Fernandez, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) who was guest at the 3rd Regional Forum on Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization held in Manila and attended by delegates from the Asia-Pacific.
He cited the rapid increase in rice harvesters in the Philippines. In 2011, there were only 41 units of rice harvesters. By 2014, the number had jumped to 1,806 units. Such postharvest machines, combined with tractors and transplanters, among others, significantly help improve farm productivity and product quality. They also reduce production cost and postharvest losses, which translate to enhanced income for farmers and improved food supply.
Truly, farm machinery can provide great advantages. In land preparation, for instance, tractors can plow and harrow several hectares of rice fields in a matter of hours compared to several days when carabao power is used. This is very important when time is of the essence. Like when there is water shortage and planting has to be done posthaste.
Rice harvesting machines, on the other hand, are very crucial in harvesting ripening grains that are threatened by impending typhoons and other climatic aberrations. Mechanical harvesters are also able to eliminate a lot of postharvest losses.
Rightly so, Mr. Fernandez stressed that “as the Philippines gradually catches up with its neighbors in Asia in the shift from traditional labor-intensive production and postharvest operations to mechanized labor-saving technologies, it is imperative to ensure that the gap in human resource capacities for the effective uptake of new technologies is addressed.” In other words there should be enough trained manpower to man the machines and maintain them properly.
He also reiterated the need to broaden the scope and align the curricula of higher education and training institutions in the field of sustainable agricultural mechanization with changing trends in the region and with sustainability principles.
“Trained human resources are instrumental to sustainable mechanization. In order to promote the appropriate selection and proper use of mechanization, training must take place at all levels and involve a wide range of stakeholders, including the departments of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, as well as farmers’ organizations, agri-food chain stakeholders and those working in the agricultural machinery and supply chains. The benefits of mechanization will not be fully harnessed, especially by smallholders, unless these effective linkages are created,” Fernandez said.
FAO has been integrating farm mechanization in its various projects in support of the government of the Philippines. In 2015, FAO distributed more than 300 sets of farm machinery and equipment, including hand tractors, tillers, shredders, rice threshers and reapers, corn shellers, multi-purpose dryers, mini corn mills, micro-mills, among others, to farmers and community-based organizations in areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda.