Bicol farmers get chance to become millionaires

LIGAO CITY—The recent launch here of a new government program for the agricultural sector marked the opening of an opportunity for rice-based farmers in Bicol to become millionaires.

Called the Rural Transformation Movement (RTM), the program—anchored on the “Gusto Naming Milyonaryo Kayo [We Want You to be Millionaires]” campaign of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), involves a holistic, inclusive and sustainable growth in rice-based communities.

The campaign is in support of President Aquino’s social contract made to the Filipinos that highlights poverty alleviation, food security, higher family income, climate resilience and employment generation.

Reynaldo Castro, manager of the newly established PhilRice regional branch for Bicol based in Barangay Batang here, over the weekend told the Philippine News Agency that the RTM primarily promotes the P1-million farmers’ profit per hectare per year.

PhilRice is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture that is tasked to help farmers produce more rice by way of developing high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies through research and development works.

“RTM is a campaign that aims for transformation rather than transmission,” Dr. Ronan Zagado, the program lead campaigner, stressed during the launch activities participated in by hundreds of farmers at the Batang PhilRice station.

Instead of the usual one-way dissemination of information, it is a process of changing the perceptions, practices, attitudes and life chances of farmers through rice-based agriculture to achieve sustainable growth in the rice farming areas, he explained.

RTM also involves behavioral intervention wherein farmers are guided in maintaining a positive attitude towards learning new techniques and strategies and contribute to their own success while PhilRice provides technical assistance and develops rice farming technologies, Zagado added.

In the “Gusto Naming Milyonaryo Kayo” campaign in Bicol, farmers are inspired to maximize use of every farm space and time through crop diversification in which agri-business enterprises is integrated to rice farming through the guidance that the PhilRice Batang station will be providing.

In this campaign, PhilRice is determined in making Bicolano farmers earn Php1 million worth of harvest per hectare per year through one of its recently developed projects—the Integrated Rice-Based Agri-Bio Systems (IRBAS) — that aims to increase production of rice and other crops with high market value.

The project implements the diversification of crop production, explores the potential of rice-based products, ventures on mushroom and peanut production and vermi-composting as a way to achieve the target.

Under this system, farmers, instead of producing only rice each year in most of local farming communities with irrigated fields, are made to diversify into planting peanuts in-between the two rice cropping seasons so that the scheme is referred to as rice-peanut-rice production.

Agricultural Engineer and IRBAS focal person Melanie Aileen de Peralta said PhilRice uses peanut in the diversification system for its high market-value, easy production and more by-products.

Popular as the most affordable finger food snacks in the Philippines, peanut, — which is usually sold by street vendors as fried, steamed, and sugar-coated — is very appealing to the taste of many people and also widely-used for cooking pastries, viands, desserts and, most often, for sandwiches, De Peralta said.

Another component of the IRBAS is mushroom production that is now ongoing at the Batang Station using rice straws as substrate for growing oyster mushroom or “kurakding,” an edible local variety that is suitable to grow in the area due to favorable environmental condition.

Kurakding is a high-value farm product that is a delicacy accepted as vegetable usually cooked with coconut milk and other vegetables and is considered one of the favorite local dishes.

Apart from kurakding’s popularity as a food commodity in Bicol, edible mushrooms that will be produced by the project will also address the high demand but meager supply in Metro Manila and other major markets in the country and abroad, De Peralta said.

She said mushroom production involves fungiculture, a process that requires different conditions for optimal growth.

Instead of seeds, mushrooms reproduce asexually through spores.

Mushrooms are a good cash crop as; they are rather easy to grow and are brimming with protein, B vitamins and minerals and even have medicinal properties, she said.

Its culture has been gaining popularity in the country but present cultivation is limited, perhaps due to limited local knowledge about fungiculture.

Growing mushrooms requires little space and time and farmers can make use of their rice straws following harvesting.

It can be grown the whole year round provided a good storage of rice straw — that is among the most common types of fungiculture breeding materials — is prepared, De Peralta added.

Vermi-composting, on the other hand, involves the production of organic fertilizer from biodegradable materials like plant residues and animal manure through the action of earthworms.

Similar to the mushroom production, rice straw and food wastes such as vegetable peels will be used as substrate for the vermi-composting.

The vermi-compost or the fertilizer produced from it can be used to fertilize agricultural lands or can be sold in the market as added income.

Castro said Palayamanan Plus, a rice farming system to increase the production of rice and other crops with high market value and the Nucleus Estate Strategy (NUESTRA), are among the strategies employed by the RTM.

Palayamanan, which is coined after two words: palayan (rice farm) and yamanan (treasure) or literally making the rice farm a source of treasure, is a model being promoted by the DA that revolves around intensive and integrated farming where every inch of space in the farm is utilized for production of various crops and livestock.

“The nine stations of PhilRice around the country that provide farmers with technical assistance, inputs, and machinery requirements serve as nuclei wherein research and development begins. Communities surrounding the stations will adopt the technologies and this process will continue until more communities are reached,” he said.

This strategy creates the “ripple effect” wherein immediate communities influence surrounding communities, Castro said, adding that partnership is also imperative as aside from PhilRice, state universities and colleges along with Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Centers also serve as nuclei.

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