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Growing rice is Zambo farmers’ bet to rise from poverty

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Zamboanga del Sur – Farmers in this province are resolved that despite difficulties in producing rice, the crop is their best bet to rise from poverty.
Armed with modest credit assistance, two rice farmers’ associations in the towns of Tigbao and Kumalarang have made significant progress in their lives.

Farmers in Barangay Begong in Tigbao now heave a sigh of relief after recovering from high-interest debts incurred from non-formal lenders. 
Begong People’s Organization (BPO) president Rommel Alegarbes said lack of financial capital is a major constraint among rice farmers like him as they need to purchase necessary inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

“Having no access to financial assistance, we are left with no option but resort to borrowing money from traders-lenders who usually put interest as high as 30 percent,” Alegarbes said.

Part of their borrowing agreement was for farmers to directly sell their produce to these trader-lenders who dictate the buying price which oftentimes at lower price. This system unfair financial arrangement usually short-changed farmers and plunge them to even bigger debts.

“Unless we have other financial means only then we can recover from the incurring huge debts,” Alegarbes added. 

*Breaking-free from huge debts

Their break came when the municipal government endorsed them as one of the beneficiaries of the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP).

MRDP is a poverty alleviation program of the national government implemented under the Department of Agriculture (DA). Now on its mid-term of implementation, the program is currently addressing infrastructure and livelihood needs of small farmers in the island region.

Thorough the Community Fund for Agricultural Development (CFAD), the program’s livelihood component, the association was able to access fund for their proposed for rice production project in June 2010.

“The P250, 000 funds they received was used to finance the rice production of 23 members during the previous cropping season. The farmers agreed that money borrowed by its members will have a 10 percent interest which is a much lower amount compared to non-formal lenders which charges 30 percent or more,” said agricultural technician Josephine Natinga.

“Prompt repayment is policy strictly observed so that roll-over funds will be extended to next in-line beneficiaries,” she added.

“This opportunity to relieve ourselves from high-interest lending happens only once so we need to observe the policy to sustain our livelihood,” Alegarbes said.

Meanwhile Alberto Umas one of the members who availed himself of the CFAD funds said that aside from paying his debts he has also bought ducks and chicken to augment his income.

“I told my member to look up to me. Life was too difficult then but now I can look forward to better income.  I can choose where to sell my palay at much better price,” he said.

“I am glad that the assistance I received from CFAD enabled me to recover from huge debts incurred during the previous cropping seasons and allowed me to start anew,” he added.
*Acquiring valuable assets

Farmers in Barangay Gawil, Kumalarang for their part have acquired farm implements to further boost their scarce financial resources.

Similar to Begong, Gawil is another major rice producing area in Zamboanga del Sur where farmers are heavily dependent in growing rice as their livelihood.

Valentin Pabinguit of the Gawil Irrigator’s Association said the funding they have availed themselves of from CFAD was used to purchase certified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and distributed to their members as their inputs for the cropping period.

“Based on our experience, it would be better to provide farm inputs instead of cash so that funds will be actually spent in rice production. Farmers will have no way of spending the allocated funds for other means such as gambling and drinking” Pabinguit said.

Pabinguit said the farm inputs were given not as dole out but loan which in turn the farmers will pay in cash with 10 percent interest. Such interest is more affordable compared to 30 percent interest from non-formal lenders.

Aside from financing, lack of adequate farm equipment is another limiting factor for these rice farmers to improve their production and income. The bulk of expenses go to rental of farm equipment during land preparation and harvest season.

“Private individuals are earning much from rental fees of their farm equipment which sometimes are not available as they have to prioritize their own farming activities,” Pabinguit said adding:

“We have decided to buy thresher, hand tractor, and a carabao as draft animal from the last tranche of funds downloaded to our association.  This will not only address availability of farm equipment but also in augmenting our scarce financial resources,” he added.

The farm equipment and draft animal they have acquired are available for rent at P1, 500 for GFIA members and P1, 600 for non-members alike. Based on the report of their treasurer Laurencio Gaudencio, the association earned at least P15, 000 from the previous cropping season giving them enough amount for equipment maintenance with extra amount for their savings.

Pabinguit said members are made to realize that they have to pay back the amount of the inputs as well as the rental fees after they have harvested their crop.  He said farmers preferred to rent the association’s equipment not only because it is cheaper but they have their share of its income.

“We are quite strict in implementing our policies particularly on repayment so that each member will not be complacent with their duties and responsibilities. Timely repayment of loans will also allow our association to expand our services to next-in-line beneficiaries,” he said.

To date the association has almost doubled the funds they have availed themselves of as their total assets (farm equipment and draft animal) is amounted to P111,000 plus a collectible of P106,000 from members loan and rental fees. 

Pabinguit is optimistic that rice production in their barangay will continue to be profitable now that farmers are gradually liberating themselves from huge debts.

The association is planning to expand its services from farm input-lending to palay trading to further boost their financial resources and at the same time offer good buying price to their members.

“The financial assistance provided to us through MRDP and our LGU has given us the opportunity not only to improve our income but also on how we can sustain rice production as a profitable farming activity,” Pabinguit said.

MRDP program director in her report to DA Secretary Proceso Alcala said the program is prioritizing the rice farmers in its livelihood assistance to complement the national government’s goal of attaining sufficiency in rice production.

“Unlike Luzon and Visayas, majority of farm areas in Mindanao are typhoon-free making it ideal for agricultural production. If enough support is given to farmers here, the island region can significantly contribute in ensuring enough rice supply throughout the country,” Ramos said. (Noel T. Provido)




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