Bicol cassava farmers to revitalize the industry
By Emily B. Bordado TINANGIS, Pili, Camarines Sur --- “May Pera sa Cassava”. This was the assurance made by representatives of the San Miguel Foods, Inc . (SFMI) and Agribusiness Development Group, as well as the cassava farmers and assemblers who gave testimonies during the cassava harvest festival and market forum held in this barangay recently. Over 100 farmers from Camarines Sur, Masbate, Albay , and Camarines Norte attended the event held at the F.B. Montenegro Farm owned by retired Judge Felimon B. Montenegro who is now an SFMI assembler. Montenegro who originally owned and managed about 5 hectares of cassava plantation disclosed that as assembler he now an aggregate area of about 31 hectares which include those owned by farmers from neighboring municipalities and provinces that supply him cassava chips. He shared his experiences and insights in his new undertaking after retiring from government service. He invited other farmers to bring their cassava to him and expand their production area as there is a great demand for this crop. Alfredo Rillo, the designated Farmer-Regional Executive Director (RED) of the Department of Agriculture for the month of May, also graced the occasion to represent DA RED Dr. Elena B. de los Santos. He expressed hope that this time around the cassava farmers would not be put at a disadvantage. A former regional manager of the Philippine Coconut Authority, Rillo cited the unpleasant experience of cassava farmers before who entered into contract growing with private companies but incurred losses when their produce were rejected or bought at much reduced price. Rillo is also the current chairperson of the Regional Agriculture and Fishery Council, a private sector-led policy and monitoring body for the agriculture sector. He underscored the need to reorganize a new cassava board as industry issues and concerns emanate from the ground. The board can elevate these to the RAFC who in turn can relay them to the top --- the policy makers. The SFMI representatives led by Raymond Joseph Britanico, Area Operation head for Luzon, and Ben Brasales , area coordinator for South Luzon, assured the farmers that under their new scheme farmers will be given the necessary assistance from securing the quality planting materials, production, harvesting and up to the processing and assembling of the chips to ensure that what are produced conform with the quality standards set by their company. He urged farmers to work with them to revitalize the cassava industry in the region. Meanwhile, newly designated DA- OIC Regional Technical Director for Operations, Rodel Tornilla said that the agency is aggressively promoting farm mechanization and providing the necessary farm equipment and postharvest facilities such as tractors, flatbed dryers, chippers, to ensure that quality cassava chips are processed and production losses are avoided or reduced. He cited the many industrial and commercial uses of cassava aside from being a major raw material for animal feeds. A field demonstration of some cassava equipment being provided by the DA was later conducted by the Regional Agricultural Engineering Division and the farm machinery companies. As a culminating activity, the attendees organized and elected the officers of the Cassava Commodity Board, namely: Felimon B.Montenegro, president; Jerry M. Mercado, vice president; Lea M. Beltran; secretary; Mutya Roqueza M. Montenegro, alternate secretary; Thereza Z. Oliver Treasurer; Dan D. Ribas, auditor; Teresa D. Panuelos PIO; Mike B. Coribilion and Ramon Gaudiel, business managers. Also elected as members of the board are: Luis D. Belarmino and Adonis F. de la Cruz, both of Masbate; Nickson Mallorca of Albay; Epinia P. Sandoval of Camarines Sur and Ruel de Jesus of Camarines Sur.