It’s time farmers consolidate and go ‘Smart’ farms


Despite decades now of agrarian reform, farmers now owning farms still remain poor as land ownership does not guarantee better production and higher incomes.

Why farmers carp over CARP. While land reform breaks the age-old feudal bondage and allows farmers relative freedom, the lack of support services has magnified land reform’s fundamental defect—breaking up lands into small lots only deprive them of the value of economies of scale.

Ever since President Cory Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) three decades ago, a new generation has supposedly replaced the aging parent farmer-beneficiaries whose small 1- to 2-hectare lot is being parceled further into smaller lots for their children, making the land all the more uneconomical.

Unable to live from the land owing to low productivity, the farmers’ sons and daughters leave their farms, composing the bulk of rural-to-urban migration and the overseas Filipino workers phenomenon where 6,000 now leave the country every day. Left behind, their parents have increased the average age of farmers to 58 years.

Go for farms, not arms. Many of the disgruntled left behind become easy recruits of insurgents and extremists like Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-inspired Maute Group in Marawi.

Unfortunately, when trouble happens, livelihood stops, causing tremendous havoc, that could take years to recover as the skilled people have left, leaving behind those lacking in skills to get back on their feet.

Vicente “Ka Sonny” Domingo, chairman of the Kapisanan ng Magsasaka, Mangingisda at Manggagawa ng Pilipinas Inc., asserts the only solution to rural unrest is “A Call to Farms, Not Arms”, which he says is a good theme for a summit.

He quotes Biblical passages about converting “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks”, and that the “nation must not take up sword against another nation, nor train for war anymore”.  In short, peace and development can happen when people give up arms, and go for farms.

Why not go “Smart” farms? An agriculture graduate from UP Los Baños in 1963, Ka Sonny started an illustrious career with a multinational company introducing chemical fertilizers, but resigned from a high-paying job to go full-time farming after witnessing farmers’ poverty in Mindanao, while he is eating steak with his American boss.

Since the 1960s he has been through countless projects, which were all unsustainable because they were too small. Now going 77 years old, he realized farmers have not escaped poverty, despite the promises of CARP.

Ka Sonny’s idea of a Smart farm consolidates small farms, say, 1,000 farmers at 1 hectare each, into viable integrated farming units. This bails out farmers from subsistence farming, as clustering reverses the break of land due to land reform, thus bringing back economies of scale. Instead of giving the usual cash credit to farmers for their inputs of choice, individual credits can be pooled into a joint venture along corporate structures, adopting cooperative principles.

He attributes the success of farmers in advanced countries to institutional partnerships, for one, between farmers and professionals, schooled in management, technology, finance, marketing, etc. In South Korea, for instance, farmers till their farms in the morning and later work in their processing plants managed by professionals and graduates of universities, who are both their employees and bosses. This partnership assures higher success. But more than partnership, Smart’s acronym—Systematic, Modernized, Appropriate Rural Technologies—spells out its thrust.

Pooling versus fooling. Critics may consider Ka Sonny a fool for his ideas, but he argues if banks already lend big individually, why not pool them into bigger loans that can fund multiple integrated projects that will guarantee viability, sustainability and faster payback periods of even three years.

Smart farms will adopt state-of-the art technologies; produce more outputs; process more value-adding; acquire postharvest and logistical facilities that will enable them to market directly; and produce their own power and irrigation; and develop commercial and other services for the community.

Pooling is the strategy versus fooling by meddling middlemen. This is the principle of the broomstick, whereby a single stick cannot sweep, but together as a broom the sticks can sweep out any problem. Whether this is a sweeping statement or not, it has some logic.

There’s class now in this grass? One of the many technologies to be introduced is biofuel ADX—a taller, sturdier sugarcane-like plant of the grass family from South America that is a weed with no sugar extract but, because it can grow anywhere with no fertilizers, no soil conditioner, no water, or no sunshine, it is the best feedstock for biomass energy.

Australian consultant Alan Hayward will help set up a tissue culture facility to mass produce ADX that can be harvested every four months with ratooning capability of 20 years. As a lazy man’s crop, it can be programmed for daily harvesting to power mini gasifiers that can power deep-well water pumps. Farmers can therefore have “electrigation” and power from a hated weed now a grass with class.

Compared to rice hull for bio-energy costing P2.50 per kilo, ADX costs only 50 centavos/kilo, the difference can help increase farmers’ incomes. Yields in tropical countries are double the ADX in Europe.

In the end, it is not the share of the pie that matters as farmers already own 100 percent of their land, wiping out poverty mainly comes through physical wealth creation or productivity.




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