Improved vegetable varieties can make small farmers rich.
The future of Philippine Agriculture truly belongs to the Family Farms. These are the farms that are as small as half a hectare to two or three hectares or a bit bigger. These are the farms that comprise more than 80 percent of all farms in the Philippines.
Why do we say that the future of Agriculture belongs to the Family Farms? Well, if the productivity and profitability of these farms can be improved, the positive effects for the farmers and the economy would be tremendous. It would mean inclusive growth. The farmers would make more money to buy their basic necessities, money to send their children to school, and the chance to enjoy some of the amenities of the good life. The small farms could also help ensure food security in the country.
The agenda of the government and the private sector should be to help make small-scale farming a viable agribusiness. You say small farms are too small to generate big enough profit? Well, we have witnessed many small-scale farmers who are able to earn good income from small parcels of land.
One very good example is Wilber Sabatchi who used to be a caregiver in Israel for seven years and a factory worker in Korea for four years where he received the equivalent of P40,000 to P50,000 a month.
When he finally finished his overseas contract, he bought a small farm in his native Mankayan in Benguet to become a small vegetable farmer. To his pleasant surprise, he could make more money growing hybrid bell pepper than what he used to make as an OFW. For instance, a couple of years back, he planted 5,000 seedlings of Red Star sweet pepper, a hybrid, on 1,500 square meters. From that cropping cycle of four months, he was able to make P150,000 after deducting all his expenses. That was bigger than what he could save as an OFW in four months.
Johnny Gatuz (right) harvesting green papaya with Ric Reyes of East-West Seed.
Another fellow who makes good income from a small farm is Johnny Gatuz of San Rafael, Bulacan. For a few years now, he has been renting land in San Rafael to grow his favorite high-value crops. In one portion, last January, he planted 1,000 seedlings of Red Royale, a hybrid papaya. Starting April, he has been harvesting P1,600 to P2,400 worth of green fruits every two days. He is also making money from other crops in his rented farm.
How were these two small farm operators able to make good income? By using improved farming technologies. In both cases, Wilber and Johnny planted hybrid seeds that really produce higher yield of good quality products that command a good price. They learned the fine points of growing hybrid seeds through the guidance of the technicians of the seed companies.
What could the government do to help small farmers? Provide more farm to market roads to enable the farmers to bring their harvest to market. The government and the private sector, including foundations like SM Foundation, can collaborate to undertake hands-on training in growing vegetables and other crops. Such trainings should include improving the financial literacy of the farmers so that they will know how to save and to invest their savings wisely.
The farmers need affordable loans so that they can buy the improved seeds and inputs. In the 1970s, the Development Bank of the Philippines could extend loans to farmers at the rate of 6 percent interest per year for a term of 10 years. Why can’t the same government financial institutions lend at the same affordable terms today? With low-interest loans, more small farmers will be able to undertake diversified farming projects that will give them more income.
Direct-seeding of onion with a small farm machine makes planting faster and more economical.
MECHANIZATION – Farm mechanization is the order of the day. Mechanization will enable farmers to accomplish various chores faster and more economically. How can you mechanize small farms, you ask? How can small farmers afford to buy expensive farm machines?
Well, there are schemes to achieve that. One very good example is the Agri-Tech Integrated Services Company (ATISCO) based in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. The company has targeted the rice farmers by offering them mechanized services to plant rice. The company has a pool of farm machinery and equipment that include tractors and attachments to prepare the land, plant the seedlings by mechanical transplanters, harvest the grains by combine, dry the palay and even up to milling.
ATISCO is also into mechanization of onion production in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. It has machines to form planting beds, machines to install plastic mulch and even machine to harvest the onions. ATISCO has made an agreement with the owner of a big cold storage facility in Mindoro itself so the harvest could be stored for longer periods.
There are other creative schemes that can enable small farmers to mechanize their farming. Let’s hope the bright boys of the Department of Agriculture as well as the big players in the industry can come up with doable schemes to improve the productivity and profitability of small family farms.