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The Mindanao Food Lab

DAVAO CITY—Production of staple grains and other major crops has been intensified in the Caraga Region, even amid Covid -19 restrictions, when urban centers reeled heavily from the scarcity and rising prices of available food supply.

The revitalized agriculture assistance is also significant to the region, long acknowledged as the timber capital of Mindanao, although much of wood-based products are currently concentrated in tree plantations and calls have been renewed to protect the remaining secondary-growth forests.

In 2016, egg production got a technical boost from the assistance of an Aboitiz-subsidiary firm and a year later, the region’s planners joined a Mindanao study tour on the fisheries industry in coastal Infanta, Quezon, “to generate benchmark information on designing value-chain ventures for the different fisheries sectors across Mindanao.”

In 2017, the World Bank-funded Philippine Rural Development Program granted the processing and marketing proposal of the Bayugan Rubber Producers Cooperative in the towns of La Paz, Esperanza, Talacogon and Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur; and the regional office of the Department of Agriculture sent 53 farmers to undergo the Kapatid Agri Mentor Me Program, a coaching and mentoring facility for agriculture enterprise to sustain and scale up the farming business of farmers.

Since 2008, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said, it has assisted and monitored the operation of 31 barangay food terminals, 11 municipal food terminals, two organic agriculture trading posts, one Agri-Pinoy trading center and four rice processing centers in the region.

“These 49 business hubs have been operated by farmer associations and cooperatives supported by the office,” it said.

The assistance—in the form of direct distribution of seeds, farm inputs and machineries, training and short-course learning—was sustained in the next years, halted abruptly, albeit briefly, by the restriction of movement during the pandemic.

But as soon as the nation learned to devise ways to keep food supply going, farm production resumed immediately.

Not rivals

THE two economic sectors—agriculture and forestry—may be occasionally deemed rivals in terms of utilization of available land, but Caraga region appears to blend the two together, enough to propel it to an outstanding performance in terms of regional output.

Government monitors show this northeastern Mindanao region contributing 8.01 percent in 1998, 8.25 percent in 1999 and 8.29 percent in 2000 to the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of Mindanao during these years.

In the same period, the region’s economic growth accelerated faster and outpaced other regions in Mindanao, hitting 5.42 percent in the years 1999 and 2000, second only to Southern Mindanao Region, which posted 6.06-percent growth.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry sector was the leading contributor to the region’s GRDP in 2000, placed at P14.336 billion, higher than its 1999 performance of P13.599 billion.

To further illustrate the important contribution of these two sectors, the regional economic performance in 2000 (5.42 percent) was actually a deceleration from the previous year (6.03 percent in 1999) and it was because of the slowdown of the performance of the agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors.

Machinery and technology support

AMID the pandemic last year, P42.38 million was granted to 15 accredited rice-based farmers’ cooperatives and associations in Agusan del Norte and Butuan City. This was distributed by DA-Caraga Regional Director Abel James I. Monteagudo and Director Baldwin G. Jallorina of the DA’s Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech).

The equipment consisted of 13 four-wheel tractors, 11 hand tractors, 18 floating tillers, six rice-combine harvesters, two walk-behind transplanters, three riding-type transplanters and one precision seeder.

DA-PhilMech said farm mechanization can lower the cost of cultivating palay (unhusked rice) by P1 to P2 per kilo. At present, the cost of producing a kilo of palay in the Philippines is P12 per kilo, while it is P6 in Vietnam and P8 in Thailand.

PhilMech also handed out P150.1 million worth of rice production and postharvest machinery and equipment to 53 accredited rice-based farmers’ cooperatives and associations in Surigao del Sur.

Monteagudo said his office also built the region’s first monolithic dome in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur. This is a cold storage facility to keep the freshness of perishable food such as vegetables and fruits by slowing down the deterioration process and extend its shelf life for several weeks. “This is like a production facility where the harvest is packed and stored in a disaster-resistant structure,” Monteagudo pointed out.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that Agusan del Sur’s 2019 production of 10,459.30 metric tons contributed 70 percent of Caraga’s vegetable production.

Assistance also came in the form of electronic media learning for the DA’s Smart Rice Agriculture.

The DA-Agricultural Training Institute and Philippine Rice Research Institute-Agusan conducted the Unified School-on-the-Air Program on Smart Rice Agriculture (SOA-SRA), from March 9 to 12, to reach a target of 3,000 farmers in municipalities and cities with average yields of less than four tons per hectare in the region.

“Tapping radio as a medium is a strategic and creative solution of the department to the massive information and educational needs of farmers. Radio also amplifies the limited reach of agricultural extension workers and stands as a practical platform during a pandemic such as Covid-19,” Monteagudo said.

Aside from technology, the DA distributed direct financial assistance to hard-up farmers to ensure that they work up their farms during the pandemic.

For example, the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, allotted P58.3 million to assist groups like the Goat Raisers Association of Sitio Sanyata (GRASS) and the Chicken Raisers Association of Burboanon (CRAB), recipients of the 2019 Goat and Chicken Production Projects at Barangay San Roque and Barangay Burbuanan, Bislig City.

As of January 2021, GRASS reported 13 goat stocks (10 does, two bucks, and a kid). The group also sells their goats’ manure to earn additional income. CRAB, on the other hand, has yet to sell its poultry products. They only received their 180 chickens in December 2020. This year, CRAB will receive poultry production materials and drugs and biologics worth P251,050.

The regional DA has also set aside P161 million for different agriculture interventions to rice farmers this year in Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Surigao del Sur.

Livestock and poultry raisers also received assistance as the DA gave P1.4 million worth of animals in November last year. It said animal stock comprised: 400 heads of free-range chicken for eight farmer associations of RTR, Agusan del Norte; 30 heads of cattle to San Francisco and Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, for 22 farmer-recipients; 20 heads of goat for learning sites through the Agricultural Training Institute; 50 heads of hogs to Small Hog Raisers Association of La Paz, Agusan del Sur, and 250 chickens for five farmer associations at Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur.

The DA also distributed 610 heads of chicks to 61 families in Barangay Matho, Cortes, Surigao del Sur, with one bag of feeds, vitamins and vegetable seeds for each recipient.

Peace dividend

A PLEASANT surprise that came with the revitalization of  agriculture in the erstwhile timber country was the dividend of peace among former combatants.

A DA communication dispatch last year talked about how the Taguibo Coconut and Cacao Growers Association Inc. (TCCGA) “came to be.”

“With the common ground of being engaged in coconut and cacao growing, the association, aside from farmers, is composed of retired soldiers and rebel returnees who have turned to farming to alleviate their way of living,” it said.

The association was organized in 1987 as the Taguibo Small Coconut Farmers Organization with coconut growers as members. The unstable market price of coconut then—even plunging to as low as P2.50 per kilogram for a whole nut—discouraged farmers, further aggravated by the difficulty in accessing loans because of stringent requirements.

The group was activated in 2014 with the inclusion of cacao because of its high demand in the market. This renewed the hope of the farmers and they availed themselves of the said project. It was renamed later.

At present, the TCCGA now has 120 members and 72 of these are active cacao growers. They have a total 131.7 hectares of land area clustered in the barangays of Taguibo, Cabcabon, Sumilihon, Antongalon, Camayahan, Anticala and Pianing, all in Butuan City. These are planted with 70,747 cacao trees, of which 70 percent are already productive.

No one left behind

THE agriculture endeavor was also commendable with the inclusion of the beneficiaries in the government’s 4K cash assistance program along with the indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities.

For this special project, the DA had P13.7 million last year and another P14.9 million this year. “Our IPs have massive spaces and lands for agricultural products, but these are not productive. This is the reason why this initiative is lodged under the DA, of course in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), to safeguard the customs, traditions, values, beliefs and interest of the communities,” explained Edelmira Luminarias, DA-Caraga 4K Program focal person.

2021 direction

THE DA said the bulk of its activities would center on capability-building activities, “designed to guide and equip the farmer-partners in their transition from subsistence to entrepreneurial farming is in the works. These include entrepreneurial mind-setting and organizational communication.”

The DA-SAAD Program allotted P58.3 million for its 2021 implementation in the Caraga Region; P33.8 million for food production and livelihood projects and P1.6 million for capability-building in the municipal and regional levels.

It said the program would no longer establish additional groups this year, “but it would continue supporting all 32 associations established in 2019 and 2020.” Expansion of SAAD-funded production areas and increasing breeding stocks (multiplier farms) are among the priorities of the program this year as it gears up for its entrepreneurial phase.

This year, portions of the DA budget would go to the following interventions: production support services, P81 million; extension support, education, training services, P27 million; research and development, P9 million; and agri infrastructure and farm mechanization, P43 million.

Aside from the regular Rice Program, DA-Caraga is also currently implementing the Rice Resiliency Project 2 (RRP 2) with a total budget allocation of P229 million for seeds, fertilizers, and logistics support for the current cropping season (September 2020-March 2021).

Vouchers will also be issued to marginal farmers to ease the situation, said Melody Guimary, DA-Caraga radio program head. As of January 4, she said some P3.1 million worth of vouchers have been distributed to qualified farmers in Caraga Region for the cash and food subsidy for marginal farmers and fishers.

“We have already distributed subsidy vouchers to a total of 639 farmers in Caraga Region out of 911 recipients endorsed to the central office,” she said.

Another batch is expected to receive the vouchers as soon as approval is obtained from the central office.

The voucher indicating a QR code has an amount of P5,000 each divided into P3,000 for cash and P2,000 for food subsidy.

“Each recipient will present their voucher to the private paying outlet, specifically MLhuillier identified by the Development Bank of the Philippines as a program partner. The same voucher will be presented also for the food subsidy from the supplier identified by the Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (Amad) of DA-Caraga,” Guimary explained.

The food subsidy includes rice, dressed chicken and table egg.

She said the program aims to help the corn farmers who are tilling not more than 1-hectare farms, are residents of 4th to 6th class municipalities or cities, and registered in the Registry System for Basic Sector in Agriculture (RSBSA).

Guimary said respective local government units would submit the list of qualified farmers and the regional office would endorse the same to the central office for review and approval.

The program’s budget has been included in the Bayanihan Act II to help marginal farmers to recover from the crisis brought about by the pandemic and calamities that hit the country.

“Under the program, Caraga Region has an indicative target of 2,395 recipients or an allocation of P11.9 million,” Guimary added.

Aside from marginal corn farmers, other recipients for CFSMFF are coconut farmers, fishers, and sugarcane planters and IPs.

“No one should be left behind,” she said.

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