By Celso Amo
LEGAZPI CITY --- Senator Cynthia Villar who chairs the Senate Committee on agriculture and environment said poverty in the country can be solved if Filipino farmers are assisted to become productive and competitive.
She said there are three and a half million coconut farmers and roughly the same number of rice farmers in the country.
These seven million coconut and rice farmers represent 90 percent of all the farmers in the Philippines, she said.
“So if we can just improve the lives of our rice and coconut farmers, the problem of poverty in the country is solved,” the lady senator said.
“That is the Pareto’s law. Solving the problem of the majority will practically solve the problem,” she said.
She said the lives of the coconut farmers can be improved by intercropping.
“They can’t live on coconut alone. The income of coconut farmers is very low,” she said.
Statistics show that they are earning at least P1,200 a month or P50.00 a day.
“The life of a cocunut farmer has been likened to the story of Juan Tamad,” she said.
Under the coconut tree, they just wait for the nut to fall and not do anything.
“So naturally if that’s your livelihood the earning is low. But when coconut farmers apply intercropping under the coconut tree using cacao or coffee you earn at least P10,000 per hectare,” she said.
She said that brings the farmer’s income to P11,500 a month per hectare.
If the coconut farmer applies replanting using hybrid coconut, that will produce 150 nuts per coconut tree per year compared to the traditional coconut tree that produces only 40 nuts per tree in one year.
“This is triple production for the coconut farmers.”
So the P1,500 will become P4,500 plus intercropping that will make their income grow to P14,500 a month.
“So I had helped you out of poverty,” Villar said, adding that based on statistics each household needs at least P6,300 a month to feed a family of five.
Farmers need to earn more to move out of poverty, she said.
“So our model of growth is very important,” Villar said.
Villar said one of the projects she wants to establish this year is to put up rice schools.
This is just timely when the government is going to liberalize the importation of rice.
“But one problem is that many of our rice farmers are not competitive,” she added.
Filipino farmers need P12 to produce a kilo of rice while Vietnamese farmers produce rice at an equivalent of just P6 pesos.
“Even if we apply tariff, the maximum that we can get from that is 35 percent,” she said.
“If you put 35 percent over 6 pesos we’re still not competitive,” said Villar.
She added that based on study, the labor cost in Vietnam (to produce a kilo of rice) is P1.20 while it is P4.60 in the Philippines.
She said [Vietnam’s low production cost] is due to mechanization.
“Since our children are no longer interested to become farmers, we have to mechanize our agriculture,” she said.
Also, Filipino farmers produce 4.5 metric tons of palay per hectare while Vietnamese farmers produce more.
Philrice has inbred seeds and rice farmers can be taught to produce this.
“We can have our farmers learn the technology so we can move to 6 and a half metric tons per hectare so make us competitive,” she added.
“We must put up rice schools. I have a farm school in Bulacan and Bacoor and we are preparing the land so we can plant rice, of course not for me, but to produce rice as a venue for students, farmers and their children on how to produce rice competitively,” she explained.
“We also have mechanization and they can learn how to produce the right kind of seeds for their farms.”
Coco levy fund
Aside from intercropping and mechanization, Villar also said that more funds are going to support the farmers out of coco levy and from the national government.
She disclosed the Senate has passed the Coconut Industry Development Law and the House of Representative will have its similar version passed in May 29 this year.
“And by the middle of the year the coconut industry development law will be passed by both houses,” Villar revealed.
She said this is very significant for Bicol as a coconut producing region.
There are two funding sources for this law which include one from the coco levy amounting to P75B in cash and P30B in assets.
Total combined asset of the coco levy fund will reach up to P100B, according to Villar.
“These will be invested in Treasury Bills to insure that it will not get lost,” she explained.
These Treasury Bills are bonds of the Republic of the Philippines wherein the government of the Philippines is the creditor.
Villar said the yearly interest could reach two billion a year from the government.
She said coconut farmers would want to invest those funds at shared facilities program so they can immediately engage in agricultural processing.
She recalled her visit to Aloga in Germany two years ago to witness the biggest food fair in the world.
And she was surprised to find out that the hot selling products there were coco sugar and coco water.
“So don’t just rely to sell your products to the oil mill but also produce your own coco sugar and coco water,” she said.
“There is high demand (for these products) and they earn a lot,” said Villar.
Coco sugar is better than ordinary sugar because it’s healthier and even those with diabetes can consume them.
“And the coco water is very nutritious. And many are just throwing them away to get the coconut meat.”
She advised them to have their own processing equipment so they can preserve and turn them into nutritious coco water.
“So in the coco levy fund you can request for funding to put up a shared facility program.”
Aside from shared facility, there’s also funding available to empower farmer’s organizations as well as for scholarship,
“These is all for your betterment. It is a huge help for the industry as well as for our personal benefit,” she said.
Additional funding amounting to P10B will be provided through the General Appropriations Act for replanting, fertilization, intercropping of coffee and cacao in coconut farms.
“That is where you will earn more personally because you will be planting high value crops to develop the industry,” said Villar.
She said this is a very good law and hopefully it will be passed by the middle of the year because it will lift up the lives of the coconut farmers.
“No we are not just focusing on coconut but on other additional crops which could increase a farmer’s income.”
She said all coconut producing provinces are now very excited about these funding supports such as Quezon which is building a center for coconut but actually a school for inter-cropping.
“That is the good news for you all and am very happy for this.”
“The [proposed] law will also require the Department of Agriculture to allocate a bigger budget for livestock, poultry and dairy,” Villar said.
Thirty-three percent of the country’s agriculture production is livestock and poultry but has no dairy with only 2 percent of the budget, she said.
To integrate the tools and the funding, Villar said a Rice School is necessary.
“I want this year to put up Rice Schools so farmers can become competitive through farm mechanization and by using hybrid seeds,” said Villar.
Meanwhile, Villar thanked Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara for putting up the Albay Farmer’s Bounty Village.
“This is a very good project. Seldom can we have this kind of project in the country.”
She was glad to know that Gov. Bichara was inspired to put up the project after being one of those who accompanied her to Israel.
“You know when I go to other countries I bring along with me our Congressmen and Mayors because they are the ones who will implement those projects in their provinces,” said Villar.
“I can’t do all this by myself and for the whole Philippines,” she added.
She also told Gov. Bichara that she will be going to Indonesia in July to learn about cacao agriculture.
Indonesia today is the biggest producer of cacao in Asia.
She said in the Philippines there’s a very big demand for cacao as well as all over the world.
But she said the country is not producing enough cacao to meet its own demand.
She recalled that she invited a large French company to come here to buy agricultural products and has ordered to buy 50 MT of cacao.
“We cannot produce that number of cacao in the Philippines because we are only producing 10,000 MT of cacao a year,” she said.
But the demand of cacao in the Philippines is 50,000 MT.
“We are short even on Philippine demand. You know that cacao and coffee can be intercropped with coconut because they grow well under the shade of the coconut tree.”
She said that those which produce cacao and coffee should be the coconut producing regions in the country such as Bicol.
Senator Cynthia Villar lauds the inauguration of Albay Farmer’s Bounty Village.
Bichara said the inauguration of Albay Farmer’s Bounty Village which has a farm school, soil and tissue culture laboratory, liquid fertilizer production, dairy processing has a ready equipment from China and DOST, dairy cattle, mother trees and seeds from popular fruits from Davao such as pomelo and durian, pili and abaca seedlings, demo farms, cacao and cassava processing center, green house and hydrophonics, farmers dormitory, conference room, food court, storage and chiller for vegetables and also a venue for weekend market and as a supplier of vegetables to supermarkets and restaurants.
The provincial government has provided an initial P40M funding for the Albay Farmers’ Bounty Village which is one of the highlights of Bicol Agri-Expo 2018 and also a part of the month-long Magayon Festival.