New golden opportunity unfolds in Masbate’s gold-rich municipality

The municipality of Aroroy in Masbate is said to be sitting “ on a gold mine” for it is rich in this precious mineral. Several mining companies are operating in this 1st class town. In fact its name was originally derived from the Spanish word “Al-Oro”, which means gold and later on evolved to Aroroy.

At present, another golden opportunity is unfolding in this town as some of its residents are turning to other sources of livelihood other than working in the gold mine. With the vast lands available but left undeveloped over the years, some enterprising individuals and groups are investing in agriculture to scoop out the untapped wealth of their land .

The Department of Agriculture (DA) re-introduced grain sorghum to the local farmers in Aroroy in respond to the global demand for this crop as livestock feed and substitute for corn. Masbate province is one of the pilot or selected sites, because of its favorable climate and soil type for this kind of crop. Incidentally, livestock is a major industry of the province.

In 2017 , a young enterprising lady, Zendle Virtucio, ventured into cassava production as she knew there is a sure market for this crop. She was among those encouraged by the San Miguel Food Incorporated (SMFI) to join its Cassava Assembler Program (CAP), which encourages farmers to organize and form business units and assemble a minimum of 25 hectares of cassava plantation.

This raw material sourcing business strategy offers a guaranteed market with purchase agreement , a definite floor price and technical assistance . There were over 500 cassava farmers who were bringing to her cassava, which in turn were bought from her by the SMFI.

In 2019 , the SFMI invited her for a meeting and encouraged her to venture into grain sorghum production . To acquaint herself about this new agribusiness opportunity, she went to Nueva Ecija and visited sorghum plantations there and conferred with those engaged in said business.

In the same year, the DA Bicol established two production trials on sorghum in the province. One trial was on a 4 -hectare area in Cawayan and the other trial was on a one hectare area in Aroroy. Before the year ended in 2019, the DA in partnership with the LGU, gathered together the key players: farmers; seed supplier; assembler; and the SFMI, which is the buyer .

The DA representative explained the importance of clustering and consolidation. Then the farmers were given a training on sorghum production, which is a non-traditional crop in the island province. Farmers were then provided with planting materials and introduced to new technologies including mechanization . They were formed into a cluster.

This is in line with Agriculture Sec. William D. Dar’s call to promote and support consolidation of small- and – medium size farms to bring about economies of scale, particularly for crops that require mechanization and massive technology. It is also in support of the paradigm to modernize agriculture and promote crop diversification as the island province over the past years have only been focused on livestock, rice and corn production.

Zendle, who was designated as the assembler by the SFMI, was also provided by the DA with 16 bags sorghum seeds enough to cover 16 hectares, and the additional seeds, which she also distributed to farmers. The DA also allowed her the free use of its tractor and thresher deployed at its Research Outreach Station in Milagros. From her first harvest, she obtained an average of 2 tons per hectare.

Not bad as she adopted the farmer’s practice of not applying fertilizer.

But she learned that when fertilizer is applied, the average yield per hectare that could be obtained could go up to 10 tons. But without fertilization only an average of 2 tons per hectare could be obtained.

For the next cropping, she intends to use fertilizer to obtain higher yield and more income. Currently the farm gate price of raw sorghum in their area is P9 per kilogram. The SFMI buys dried sorghum for P14 per kg depending on the volume.

“Maganda ang business potential ng sorghum. Malaking tulong talaga ang naibigay ng DA sa mga magsasaka at sa mga gaya ko na bago pa lang sa venture na ito”, Zendel said.

Zendle who is an industrial designer by profession is enjoying her new business venture and absorbing the new learning and experiences that are now coming her way. Although, her father is currently the mayor of their town, she has set her sail on a different direction and wants to make her own mark in agribusiness.

She believed that sorghum like cassava has bright prospect in their municipality and province. As this crop has three harvests in one planting season, because of its ratooning capacity wherein one crop will grow from the previous crop, one’s profit can therefore be tripled .

But Zendle has not abandoned her investment in cassava, which offers her also a great business opportunity. She has established a 25- hectare nursery for cassava consisting of mixed varieties some of which came from Mindanao, Nueva Ecija and Cawayan.

She said that to get the optimum benefit from these very promising crops, the farmers and those new in the business need more trainings on the various aspects of the value chain of this crop from production, harvesting, postharvest, mechanization and marketing.

While the DA and the SFMI have assigned technicians to assist them, upgrading of the farmers knowledge and skills on the new technologies is needed.

Lorenzo Alvina, DA Bicol’s Rice and Corn Program regional coordinator, said that with the growing interest of the farmers to venture into sorghum production, they are negotiating with seed suppliers to ensure that planting materials be made available and accessible as a surge in the demand for these is expected .

The big potential and bright prospects that cassava and sorghum are now offering is one motivation for farmers in Masbate to go back to farming. A multi-stakeholders approach from the input supplier, farmer producers, traders and end users plus the support of the government, will ensure the sustainability of sorghum production and full development of these industries in the province of Masbate and other parts of Bicol.