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Agriculture Story of the Year 
“A year into tariffication, farmers feel worse off”
This piece chronicles how local farmers are faring against the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law.
2021 Agriculture Story
URDANETA, Pangasinan, Philippines – Sixty-five year old Pepito Parahas has been farming for 40 years and last year has been by far the most difficult with palay (unhusked rice) prices hitting record lows.

The farmgate price for palay plunged to P10 per kilo - the lowest level Parahas has ever seen in four decades of tilling the soil - from its peak of P23 in September 2018.
The passage of the Rice Tariffication Law in February 2019, which the Duterte administration and its political allies said would help farmers improve their profitability and lower the price of the staple, has made things worse for the country’s two million farmers.
Rice has become an important political commodity because it is the country’s main staple.
The law, which removed limits on imports, allowed cheap imported rice to flood the market, sending farmgate prices to multiple lows.
And while the government has been trumpeting the benefits of the law, farmers – one of the poorest sectors in the country - continue to fight for their livelihood as they compete with the oversupply of imported rice.
“We barely earned last year because of low palay prices. It was the most difficult, we still had to pay our debts so we only got about P2,000 for the whole main harvest,” Parahas said in an interview with The STAR.
“We were only able to save two cavans from everything that we harvested last year,” he said.
Parahas is just one of the millions of farmers in the country who continue to reel from the liberalization of the rice industry. Agriculture Secretary William Dar, however, described the current problems of rice farmers as “birth pains”.
“Hopefully by the end of the second year of the implementation, the birth pains will be over. By that time, farmers will benefit more from this,” Dar said.
Dar said the revenue loss from the law was only P3.3 billion and not P68 billion as claimed by the Federation of Free Farmers. He said the government collected a total of P12.3 billion worth of tariffs in 2019.
“Overall, in spite of the transition and birth pains, the outcome has been good. The loss as a result of this law is only P8.2 billion while consumer gain is at P4.9 billion. So net loss of the rice farmers all over the country is only P3.3 billion,” he said.
Even Senator Cynthia Villar maintained that the controversial measure would benefit Filipino rice farmers in the long run.
“Probably, about two to three years. That’s why, in the meantime, we are giving unconditional cash assistance and loans and I think that would be enough for the three years,” said Villar, the main author of the bill.
Under the law, the tariff collections shall be used to support local rice farmers.
To help farmers cope with the effects of the law, the Philippines is looking at keeping rice imports at a minimum this year, just enough to meet the shortage in local production.
Dar said the country targets to bring in 1.5 million to 1.6 million metric tons of rice this year.
“Managing importation and enhancing local productivity translate to better productivity and income,” he said.
Villar, for her part, said importation has been declining and based on her projections, imports would only average at 400,000 MT per quarter.
“The DA is now controlling the issuance of SPSIC (sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance) and importers are also afraid partly because of the coronavirus,” she said.
Dar likewise debunked claims that the Philippines could have a hard time importing from Thailand and Vietnam as the two neighboring countries face their own challenges.
“After this summer harvest, we will start importing again so that on rainy days, we will have enough supply of rice,” Dar said.
Right now, the rice inventory of the country is good for 80 days or almost three months. After the summer harvest season or by May, inventory is expected to be sufficient for five months.
The United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service said while the Philippines would be bringing in less rice this year, the country is still expected to maintain its status of being the world’s biggest rice importer.
Last year, the Philippines bought a record high of 2.9 million metric tons of rice as it opened up the industry to liberalization.
Parahas has yet to reap the benefits of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. For this summer cropping, he received 40 kilos of inbred seeds and is now undergoing training at a farmers’ field school in Pangasinan.
“We have yet to receive the P5,000 cash assistance but they said it’s coming already. I think things will be better if we receive the money soon. If palay prices increase again, we will be able to recover all our expenses and losses,” he said.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) cited the incidents of calamities, typhoons and flooding in some areas as reasons why farmgate prices suddenly dropped.
“Right now, prices are going up and we hope this is the trend we will continue to see,” NEDA assistant secretary Mercedita Sombilla said.
Over the past weeks, the farmgate price had breached the P16 per kilo mark.
“RTL is the long term solution to develop, strengthen and modernize the rice sector and the whole agri sector. We want to achieve greater food security by making rice available and help the rice sector become competitive,” she said.
For the mechanization component, 624 farmer cooperatives and associations are the expected recipients of tractors, tillers, harvesters among other machines. Another 900 FCAs are expected to be included.
In terms of seeds, the Philippine Rice Research Institute has so far released 1.3 million bags to 713 municipalities in 57 provinces. This benefitted 512,000 farmers covering over 650,000 hectares.

Further, the Department of Finance has reported that the government has so far collected P14 billion from tariffs as of last month.

The Land Bank has likewise released a total of P3.08 billion in loans and grants to 189,883 small farmers nationwide, and approved another P3.9 billion in loans to local government units to help them cope with the law’s initial impact on rice farmers.

One of the programs that Land Bank supports is the Expanded Rice Credit Assistance under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. The bank is one of the implementing agencies for the P1-billion RCEF allocation for credit.

From 2019 to 2024, Land Bank will make P500 million in credit assistance available annually to rice farmers in 59 out of 81 rice-producing provinces covered by the program at affordable interest rates and with minimum documentary requirements.

The FFF, however, insists that farmers lost around P68 billion with the influx of cheap rice imports, more than 22 times the P3.3 billion reported by Dar.
“I think they are playing around with numbers and providing a lot of misleading data to deflect criticisms against RTL,” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor told The STAR.
“And why is he depending on PIDS (Philippine Institute for Development Studies)? The department should have its own monitoring and evaluation,” Montemayor said.
“His data only shows that farmers lost more than consumers gained, which validates our basic assertion that the first year implementation of RTL failed to provide what the proponents promised ,” he added.
According to the FFF study, average retail prices of regular milled rice declined by P2.61 per kilo while prices for well-milled rice fell by P1.99 per kilo.
When multiplied by consumption volumes, this resulted in a gain for consumers of P34.16 billion in the form of lower prices.
On the other hand, farmgate prices of palay declined by P3.62 per kilo and resulted in total losses to farmers of P68.18 billion, or double the gains for consumers.
Rice watch group Bantay Bigas said Dar’s statement was “inconsiderate and insensitive to the family of rice farmers who have suffered from bankruptcy, indebtedness, hunger and distress due to the damage of rice liberalization to their livelihoods.”
“He has proven that he is nothing but an apologist of a failed neoliberal policy wrecking havoc not only in the local rice industry but in the entire agriculture sector,” Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said.
“It is even more infuriating that instead of sincerely providing measures to address the impact of the law and assess its effectiveness, Dar has been defending these palliative measures as if farmers are telling lies about the losses they incurred,” she said.
Bantay Bigas estimates that farmers have lost P74.8 billion due to depressed farm gate prices. The group urged Dar to review his computations as it reiterated its demand for the repeal of the law.
Dar has emphasized that the RTL is the best reform that ever happened in the history of the agriculture sector of the country.
"We now have affordable and available rice for all and the tariffs collected are going back to our farmers through the RCEF," he said.
While other farmers have already sold or leased their lands, Parahas will stick to his 1.4 hectares saying the amount he will get from selling will just be temporary and that farming will still help his family survive in the long-term.
He can only hope that the birth pains will be over sooner rather than later.
This story tackles the state of the country’s tobacco farming industry.
2021 Tobacco Story
Gold leaf farming sector still searching for own El Dorado

December 3, 2020

THE past five years of the Philippine tobacco industry paint a bleak future: dwindling tobacco area and declining number of farmers.
The major culprit? Falling domestic cigarette consumption due to higher excise taxes and anti-smoking initiatives both by the government and the private sector.
Despite this, the tobacco industry, which started in the late 16th century, remains among the cornerstones of Philippine agriculture. The crop, also called gold leaf, still brings more than P3 billion worth of value to the agriculture sector annually.
Latest National Tobacco Administration (NTA) data shows that total hectarage planted with tobacco plunged to a decade-low of 18,911 hectares last year.
Likewise, the number of tobacco farmers in the country last year fell to its lowest level in 10 years at 29,839 tillers, based on NTA data obtained by the BusinessMirror.
Despite these reductions, tobacco production in 2019 recovered to 46.571 million kilograms, halting a 9-year skid of output since 2010, the NTA data showed.
The volume was 7.7-percent higher than the 43.241 million kilograms recorded in 2018, which was the lowest output since 2010.
Better adoption
NTA OIC-Deputy Administrator for Operations Roberto R. Bonoan said last year’s production recovery was caused by favorable weather conditions and better adoption of recommended technology by farmers.
Bonoan explained to the BusinessMirror that farmers have been receiving farm interventions from the NTA and leaf buyers (like seedlings). They also receive incentives if they follow proper technology applications. These incentives include farm inputs and subsidies, cash assistance, firewood assistance and gas, among others.
Despite these interventions, Bonoan admits that the local tobacco industry still lags behind other countries in terms of productivity due to low adoption of farm machinery that could make farm work easier and more efficient.
No less than Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar stated that there is a need to make Filipino tobacco farmers “more competitive.”
Dar, who sits as chairman of the NTA governing board, emphasized the need for an industry development plan that would “elevate” the industry’s productivity to be at par of foreign tobacco producers.
“We have to use all available resources to accelerate the modernization and industrialization of the tobacco industry, and see to it that the tobacco farmers will have more income,” Dar said during the NTA’s 33rd anniversary in July when he emphasized the goal of “Masaganang Ani at Mataas na Kita [abundant harvest and high income].”
Industry roadmap
TWO years ago, the NTA started crafting an industry roadmap to chart the future of the tobacco farmers, especially in light of rising sin taxes, declining cigarette consumption and rising number of tobacco alternatives like vaping.
The NTA tapped the University of the Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) Center of Food and Agribusiness to conduct an industry study that would be the basis for the roadmap.
By 2018, the study was completed and a tobacco industry roadmap was presented to the various stakeholders of the industry.
The NTA noted then that the roadmap would guide the industry toward “improving farmers’ incomes, increasing exports, job creation and crop diversification including alternative farming systems, and provide inputs for the development of the manufacturing industries.”
But a key factor in achieving such goal was the “appropriate and effective use of the Tobacco fund.”
The tobacco fund was created by the 56-year-old Republic Act 4155, which seeks to promote the country’s Virginia tobacco industry. The fund comprises half of all the tariffs or taxes on imported leaf tobacco collected and half of the total special taxes on locally-manufactured Virginia type cigarettes.
Zeal in development
AS of the end of 2019, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) documents showed that the tobacco fund stood at P71.86 billion. The DBM document said the fund could increase this year to P80.751 billion and P89.642 billion by next year.
However, bulk of the fund remains parked in government coffers due to the lack of a sound and proper program that would convince the DBM to release the funds for the further development of the tobacco industry.
Since 2015, the tobacco fund has been increasing by at least P6 billion to as high as nearly P10 billion. Total taxes and tariffs remitted to the tobacco fund last year reached P9.717 billion.
In contrast, government expenditure using the tobacco fund is barely scratching the surface. DBM documents analyzed by the BusinessMirror showed the NTA was only able to use from 2015 to 2019 a measly average of P500 million of the parked money.
Last year, the NTA spent only P401.370 million from the tobacco fund; this was only 0.55 percent of the total pool.
“We could hardly get some releases from the tobacco fund unless we submit a comprehensive and sound program,” Bonoan told the BusinessMirror.
Proposed Step
BONOAN says they are keeping their fingers crossed that the proposed 5-year Sustainable Tobacco Enhancement Program (Step) would be approved and would be a “step” in the right direction in tapping the tobacco funds and unlocking the remaining potential of the industry.
Bonoan explained that the Step seeks to fast-track the “modernization and industrialization” of the industry. The Step is also now considered as the “new and improved” tobacco industry roadmap aligned with Dar’s paradigm.
The proposed Step, which will run from 2021 to 2025, targets to double the net income of tobacco farmers by the 2024-2025 market period from 2019-2020 benchmark through increasing their revenues by double digit growth.
The industry blueprint also seeks to achieve the following: 1) meet leaf buyers’ requirements for quality tobacco, 2) increase marketability of tobacco through technical, financial and marketing support, 3) efficient use of resources or saving in cost of production, 4) diversification towards other high value crops and 5) modernize or mechanize farm activities.
“The targets are defined based on productivity and income rather than area expansion, because tobacco is mainly market-driven. Industry players rely on demand from international buyers in programming their production. They cannot program expansion beyond what the market absorbs, otherwise they will incur losses,” the NTA said in a program overview provided to the BusinessMirror.
Area of production
THE NTA document added that “the efforts are focused on the institutionalization of farm clustering, along with modernization, industrialization of agriculture, export promotion and infrastructure development, as a key strategy for food security, while enhancing the development of the Philippine tobacco sector.”
The NTA said tobacco block farming would serve as a pillar of the 5-year plan as consolidating or clustering tobacco growers into one large production area would be a more efficient measure to improve their production.
Block farms would then receive a series of farm interventions including farm machineries, certified seeds, subsidized fertilizer, pesticides and credit services.
The NTA explained that through this program, traditional small-scale tobacco-rice farmers, who at an average own less than a hectare of land, into large commercial food systems or networks.
Production, post-harvest
AT the end of the 5-year plan, tobacco farmers would have “more efficient farm production and post-harvest operations” while having “more efficient marketing and distribution of their produce,” according to the NTA.
“This will make the farmers competitive and resilient, and strong enough to face challenges affecting the tobacco industry,” the NTA, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, said.
However, the five-year plan’s ambition comes with a caveat: an annual P7-billion utilization of the Tobacco fund at least over the first three years of the program or P21 billion in total.
If the NTA would be able to spend such an amount, Bonoan said then tobacco farmers could be self-sustaining as early as the end of the third year of the program and would not need any additional interventions afterwards.
“If we would be able to get as much as P20 billion per year then it would be better,” Bonoan said, noting that the Tobacco fund continues to accrue revenues from imports and local production.
Engaging in blocks
THE NTA said it will establish two model block farms in each of its eight branch offices nationwide for the initial implementation of the program. A block farm would be formed by consolidating 25 hectares of contiguous tobacco area, which is equivalent to about 50 to 75 farmers per block.
Bonoan said they have already identified 16 block farms nationwide, with some even exceeding the 25-hectare minimum requirement. He added that the NTA would assign one technician per block farm to assist in the land consolidation and economies of scale. Some of the block farms are in Vigan, Ilocos Sur; Badoc, Ilocos Norte; Candon, Ilocos Sur; Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; Alcala, Pangasinan; Quezon, Isabelal and, Tuao, Cagayan.
“With this, distribution and use of farm machinery would be more efficient since farmers would not rent farm machinery individually anymore,” Bonoan said.
The NTA said the interventions that would be provided to the block farms would cover its strategic programs concerning market research and trade developments, accelerated farm services, community research management and cooperative farming operations and agribusiness and institutional development.
“Within the block farm are the component projects and programs for one block farm. Actually, these are our current projects and programs for tobacco-rice production marketing and livelihood programs. The new projects are the farm mechanization and the agribusiness enterprise below the big circle,” it added.
Reach for a goal
CENTER for Food and Agri Business (CFA) of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) Executive Director Rolando T. Dy said the NTA’s plan to push block farming in tobacco is meritorious.
The idea is that a cluster of farmers will coordinate their land preparation and planting. However, there is a need to have a central nursery and there must be a clear focal person for each block.
In the view of UA&P CFA Senior Agribusiness Specialist Marie Annette Galvez-Dacul, the government’s sustainable tobacco program is the “way to go for the industry to be competitive because it brings the best standards in agricultural practices.” Consolidation brings about economies of scale.
Briones agreed and said block farming could work for the tobacco farmers. However, a certain level of economies of scale is needed. This means investing in a more efficient curing process that will allow the movement away from coal.
This, nonetheless, would increase the processing cost of farmers. Briones said, if the economics of this cost can be justified, block farming can be a good way to continue farmer’s incomes and the tobacco industry as a whole.
Briones said for block farming or land consolidation to work, the government should endeavor to change the country’s laws. He said presently, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (Carl), which gave birth to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), doesn’t allow land consolidation. The law, passed in 1988, aims to achieve “a more equitable distribution and ownership of land” in the country.
Briones believes that land policy should “look not on the bondage to farmers but [land’s] bondage to poverty.”
“If you release them from poverty, whether they cultivate the land or not, that’s better.”
Other sectors
FARM mechanization has always been one of the NTA’s key programs in order to increase farmers’ productivity. From 2018 to 2019, the NTA said it has distributed 26 tractors to tobacco farmers’ cooperatives in Region 1 and Abra.
For the current crop year 2020-2021, the NTA said that it has given 17 units of 4-wheel tractors and 16 power tillers to cooperative-beneficiaries as well as nine solar-powered irrigation systems (SPS-IS) installed in tobacco-producing provinces, servicing 47.38 hectares of area.
The NTA said the use of farm machinery is critical in improving farmers’ productivity since tobacco production is labor intensive. The use of tractors and power tillers reduce farmers’ costs at the land preparation level.
The loss of farm workers in the agriculture sector in general due to greener pasture in other sectors of economy has also become a burden to tobacco production since labor costs have doubled in recent years.
Dy said efforts to modernize the sector are in order. Using fuel tractors rather than pedestrian ones, especially for farms that are proximate to each other would help in land preparation efforts.
Farmers poorest
FILIPINO farmers are among the poorest in the Philippines.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the poverty rate among farmers was at 31.6 percent in 2018. While this is lower than the 40.8 percent poverty rate recorded in 2015, this is still the highest poverty rate recorded in all sectors in the country.
However, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Senior Research Fellow Roehlano M. Briones told the BusinessMirror that for farmers in tobacco-producing provinces, growing the golden leaf offers a way out of poverty.
“It’s a cash crop so even on a smaller land area, pwede pa ring malaki ang kita mo [you can still get a bigger income], especially if you sell one of the higher grade types of tobacco. So up to two [times] to three times more ang income mo sa tobacco compared to rice,” Briones said. “That’s still the case because actually a lot of our high grade tobacco is being exported as well. We actually export numerous types of tobacco and even finished tobacco products.”
Tobacco, as a crop that thrives in dry conditions, is a good alternative for rice farmers. While rice is mainly grown during the wet season, the dry season would see farmers planting other crops, including tobacco. Briones said tobacco offers to increase the income of farmers by 2 to 3 times.
Translating to improvements
DY said growing tobacco has been instrumental in poverty reduction in provinces where the crop is grown. He said the returns in tobacco farming could be around P600 per kilogram on average for Virginia tobacco while for Burley, about P100 per kilo.
The NTA data showed that tobacco is grown in 21 provinces nationwide. Virginia tobacco is grown in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union in Region 1. The same provinces along with Pangasinan, Isabela, Cagayan, Tarlac, and Occidental Mindoro also grow Burley tobacco.
The NTA said native and/or dark tobacco is grown in Pangasinan, La Union, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirinio, Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, North Cotabato and Maguindanao.
Galvez-Dacul said based on 2018 estimates and at a support price of P78 per kilo, farmers growing Virginia tobacco could earn around P48,000 per hectare per year to P76,500 per hectare per year since tobacco farmers only plant once a year.
In the areas they visited for their 2018 study, Dacul said those planting native or Burley tobacco alongside rice or corn earn around P45,000 per hectare for two cropping. This means planting tobacco is necessary to keep farmers financially afloat.
With this extra income, farmers are able to see some improvement in their lives. This has also translated to improvements in the poverty rates of provinces where they live.
Hard work
PSA data showed that poverty incidence among families in 2018 was in the single-digits in the provinces where a significant amount of Virginia tobacco is being grown. These provinces are Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and La Union.
Based on PSA data, the poverty rate among families in La Union was the lowest at 2.9 percent followed by Ilocos Norte at 3.1 percent and Ilocos Sur at 5.5 percent.
“Mababa ang poverty incidence sa tobacco provinces, may implications for that. [Poverty incidence in tobacco provinces remains low; this has implications.] Among the rural regions of the country, Ilocos has one of the lowest poverty incidence. This was 2018,” Dy said. “I have to give it to the hard work, diligence of the Ilocanos.”
Of the three provinces, Ilocos Sur produced the most Virginia tobacco at 20,184.46 metric tons (MT) in 2018. This was followed by La Union at 2,945 MT and Ilocos Norte, 2,931.14 MT.
In that year, the country’s total Virginia tobacco production reached 29,788.5 MT. This accounted for 59.13 percent of the 50,381.07 MT total tobacco production of the Philippines.
In terms of total tobacco produced in 2018, Ilocos Sur produced the most at 22,153.46 MT followed by Isabela with 9,385.9 MT and La Union with 5,221.3 MT.
“The earnings of farmers from tobacco farming is better than (what they can earn from) palay,” Dy told BusinessMirror. He said to produce five tons of palay per hectare at a farmgate price of P15 would lead to earnings of P75,000 per season.
Ensuring help
DY said tobacco farming is labor-intensive, making it more expensive in terms of inputs but one that leads to higher returns. He said the labor-intensive nature of tobacco farming is one reason cited by some farmers in Mindanao to quit planting the crop.
However, local governments have the ability to help these farmers, given the proceeds from the tax collection that have been earmarked for them. Dy said under this arrangement, farmers and LGUs in the Northern Philippines, specifically Ilocos Sur, have the most to gain since they are the largest producer of Virginia tobacco.
With this, LGUs need to be “creative” to ensure that farmers get the help that they need. This also means continuing to plant tobacco will guarantee the continuation of the flow of these funds to the locales where tobacco is planted. This will also warrant the poverty reduction in these areas.
Under RA 7171, Virginia tobacco-producing provinces and municipalities shall receive 15 percent of the total excise tax collected from locally manufactured Virginia-type of cigarettes but the total amount cannot exceed P17 billion as amended by RA 11346. The amount is allocated among Virginia tobacco producing provinces on a prorated basis of their production volume.
Likewise, Burley and native tobacco producing provinces and municipalities receive a 15-percent share of the total excise tax collected, as mandated by RA 10351 or the sin tax law, which is divided among them on a prorated production volume basis.
For the 2017 excise tax collections, Virginia tobacco producing LGUs received a total amount of P14.401 billion while burley and native tobacco LGUs would get P3.607 billion, latest DBM data showed.
Yet to release
DESPITE its impact on the lives of farmers, the initial version of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 or the Duterte administration’s medium-term socioeconomic plan did not mention tobacco, not even once, in its 296 pages. The government has yet to release an updated version of the PDP as of press time.
National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Regional Development Group OIC-Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla told BusinessMirror that this was mainly because tobacco was already included under the general umbrella of crop diversification efforts.
Based on the PDP, the Duterte administration aims to create “an integrated color-coded agricultural map” that can serve as a production guide on which crops and agricultural activities are suitable in a particular location. This map will take into consideration “climatic types, topography, and socioeconomic conditions.” However, no mention of the specific crops that will be included or if tobacco is included in this effort.
“(Tobacco is) not specifically (mentioned in the PDP). (However, it is) part of strategy to promote crop diversification but there is no particular policy on it,” Sombilla said.
For economists like Briones, this aversion toward including policies that will further the tobacco industry is no longer a surprise, especially with the passage of the sin tax law. Briones said the sin tax law put into perspective Filipino’s priorities, which included health.
Earmarking appropriation
LAWS that prevented tobacco firms from advertising or sponsoring events, Briones said, have significantly affected the tobacco industry compared to the days when laws like the sin tax law did not exist.
“’Nung bata pa ‘ko, meron pang [When I was young, there was the] Marlboro Tour, Tour of Luzon, ironic [isn’t it]? So you can excise the mention of a brand name. [There’re still] cigarette companies sponsoring sports events. That’s how open it was before. But now you don’t see that anymore because they’re all banned, right? So definitely, the development of the domestic market is not a good potential. At a loss ‘yung industry,” Briones said.
Apart from policies that support the tobacco industry, Briones said questions have been raised on the transparency of the use of funds. He said a portion of the funds could be provided to local governments through lump sum amounts which could be difficult to account.
Briones said one way to improve transparency in the use of the funds is the policy or earmarking the appropriation of the collection. However, this “earmarking policy” is creating a new problem that perpetuates the health and environmental risks posed by the tobacco industry.
Also limiting
THE World Health Organization (WHO) considered tobacco consumption an epidemic that kills 8 million people every year globally. Over 7 million of these deaths were the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
The Department of Health (DOH) said there are 40 smoking-related diseases which include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and stroke. The same diseases are among the top causes of death of Filipinos, according to data from the PSA.
Briones said the stern warnings issued by the WHO and the local departments of health globally are also limiting the growth and development of tobacco in many international markets. Countries in Europe, Indonesia, and China are slowly cutting back on their tobacco consumption.
Apart from the health concerns, Briones said there are also environmental risks associated with tobacco. He said the curing process of tobacco still uses coal, which is considered a source of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
GHGs are being touted as among the causes of global warming, which triggers extreme weather events such as strong typhoons, prolonged dry spells, and even the rapid pendulum swings between El Niño and La Niña.
“Hindi naman bawal gamitin ang coal, di ba? [Coal use isn’t prohibited, isn’t it?] But nobody in these days of climate change wants to encourage coal unless you’re [a] hardcore coal industry. It’s a kind of industry that you would like to move out of in the long run. In the long run, (the tobacco industry is) not really an industry we want to encourage and promote. It’s going to be like coal. One day, it should be obsolete,” Briones said.
Recent years
THE country’s tobacco exports where the bulk of the local production goes, continues to rise in recent years.
Total tobacco exports last year rose by 4.1 percent to 83.152 million kilograms, the highest volume on record.
Of the total volume, the bulk were manufactured tobacco products at 48.569 million kilograms while the remaining volume of 34.583 million kilograms were unmanufactured, NTA data showed.
Export receipt from total tobacco exports last year grew by 7.71 percent to a record-high $550.488 million with the bulk coming from manufactured products worth $414.066 million.
Bonoan said the improved quality of Philippine tobacco has been one of the major factors in the rise of shipments over the years.
But increasing export numbers do not mean a stable market for tobacco, especially since governments and private sectors have been more aggressive in curtailing smoking globally.
“Some industry players are saying that tobacco demand may increase due to the development of new generation products like e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products,” he said.
In fact, Bonoan disclosed that local leaf buyers have already committed to purchase 50 million kilograms of tobacco this 2020-2021 crop year.
But if it was up to Briones, using the funds for health needs of tobacco-related diseases would be a much better use of the proceeds of taxes. If there is any more left, Briones said maybe the government can finance research needed for the country’s “export winners” such as bananas or those where the country could gain a competitive advantage such as rubber.

For now, they trust the rice seeds of the grass species Oryza sativa that they’re planting would tide them over. Some would say it’s a misplaced trust as the buying price of palay declined to a 2-year low of P17.85 per kilogram in end-June with the spike in rice imports following the liberalization of the rice trade.

Some concede that if only better opportunities exist out there, they would abandon these lands for good.

Their hopes to live a bare minimum life, therefore, rest upon tobacco. After all, this town is the country’s tobacco capital. But some would consider this as false hope as the number of tobacco farmers and the land area for tobacco growing have been contracting over the years.

In limbo

DUSK settled on July 25 and Reynaldo Acosta was slumped on a worn gray sofa. His eyes are glued to the live television broadcast of President Rodrigo Duterte leading an entourage on the newly inaugurated bypass road in Candon, 10 kilometers southeast of Acosta’s home in Santa Lucia.

The evening news came showing the President signing into law the imposition of higher taxes on tobacco products.

The 55-year-old Acosta never smoked his whole life but the news affected him more than it did a chain-smoker. Another round of sin-tax hikes, another year of lower income, he mumbled as newscasters switched to talking about an actress’s gym workout program.
Acosta has spent over half his life as a farmer supplying tobacco for the country’s biggest tobacco growing and processing company. With the impending implementation of heavier taxes on tobacco items, he is left with two options: to stay or leave town. The latter means abandoning tobacco planting.

Across Acosta’s is Andrea Reyes’s house where the 70-year-old also mulls the future.

It’s minutes before midnight but Reyes has just woken up having slept off exhaustion from working the whole day on her farm.

Her house in Banayoyo, a municipality 10 kilometers northeast of Candon, was visited by gloom after learning the news about a tobacco tax hike.

Like Acosta, Reyes ran the numbers in her head and sighed: her take-home income from tobacco farming next year will be reduced with higher taxes on smoking products in place.

Reyes has been growing tobacco since the company buying their harvest arrived in 1964.

“Up to now, I’m still here,” Andrea said, adding she’s proud of sticking with the tobacco-growing sector through eight presidents. “I tried shifting to other crops, but none can equal the income I’m getting from tobacco farming. It used to be the best source of income here in Ilocos Sur; but things have changed over the past years.”

New law

DUTERTE signed Republic Act (RA) 11346 on July 25, which would further increase the tax slapped on tobacco products starting January 1, 2020.

RA 11346, or the Tobacco Tax Law of 2019, increases the excise tax from the current P35 per pack to P45, or less than a dollar, per pack in 2020. This is followed by a series of P5 hikes until the rate reaches P60 ($1.15) in 2023. By 2024 and every year thereafter, the increase hits 5 percent.

RA 11346 did not only raise excise taxes but also put a cap on the share of tobacco-producing provinces from government revenues.

Provinces producing Virginia tobacco would still receive 15 percent of the tobacco excise tax the government collected. However, the share shouldn’t exceed P15 billion.

Provinces producing burley and native tobacco would now receive 5 percent instead of 15 percent of government revenues. Their share would be capped at P4 billion.

The Tobacco Tax Law also expanded the programs that local government units (LGUs) of tobacco-producing provinces could fund using their share of the revenues.

Under the law, the share in government revenues would be directly remitted to the tobacco-producing provinces.

Total recall

THE head of the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Associations and Cooperatives (NFTFAC) said the increases in excise taxes would end in lower buying prices.

Bernard R. Vicente, NFTFAC’s president, explained that the reduction in consumption of cigarette would discourage manufacturers from producing more. This, he said, would reduce the volume of tobacco manufacturers buy from farmers.

“Dahil po doon hindi na po kami puwede magtanim ng magtanim at ang bilang po ng hektaryang tatamnaman namin ay mababawasan at ganoon din ang kita po namin every season [We can no longer plant tobacco at the pace we had prior to the signing of the law. Likewise, we have to cut the size of land we allot for farming. At the end of the day, it would negatively impact our income],” Vicente told the BusinessMirror.

Indeed, it is a case of supply and demand economics. When demand for cigarettes declines on higher taxes, manufacturers are compelled to adjust their production downward. As such, they buy less from farmers like Acosta and Reyes for their tobacco leaf requirement.

“We are hit hardest when the government increases taxes on tobacco. We cannot demand for higher buying prices of tobacco leaf because traders and firms will just say demand has gone down,” Reyes said in an interview with the BusinessMirror.
Earners’ woes

DEMAND is just one of manufacturers’ worries; supply is, too. And supply comes from the number of producers, which has been going down.

The number of farmers engaged in tobacco planting fell 5.28 percent to 32,652 in 2018, from 34,465 in 2017, records from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) show.

At the start of the decade, there were some 49,897 tobacco planters in the Philippines. However, as tax hikes were rolled out on tobacco products, the headcount of farmers dropped 4.6 percent steadily every year from 2010 until 2018.

Acosta himself witnessed some of his friends leave the sector for good. He still wrestles with such a decision.

Because for one, he is managing three hectares of land where he cultivates tobacco during the dry season, and, second, how could he turn his back on a valuable memory?

“I was able to send my kids to school using income [from tobacco growing and] my siblings finished their studies with the money they earned from planting tobacco,” Acosta told the BusinessMirror. “We know the value of tobacco. We are used to growing it and I see myself and my family depending on it no matter what.”

For Reyes, she still has lots of mouth to feed and dreams to fulfill. She said she was able to support the education of her three children—one of whom graduated with a double degree—through income from tobacco farming.

The septuagenarian has no plans of calling it quits as she still wants to support her grandchildren.
Growers’ ills

Marcelino N. Biala, executive of the company that buys from farmers like Acosta and Reyes, believes the Tobacco Tax Law has thrown a monkey wrench in the gears of the tobacco industry.

Biala knows what he’s talking about: he’s been in the industry for 37 years—22 years for the private sector, 15 years for the government.

“As someone who has been in the heart of the industry for so long, I know the taxes will affect the behavior of our clients. Their purchases will certainly be lesser next year, when the tax hikes are applied,” Biala said. “Of course, the higher the consumer prices, the lower the demand. At the tail of the supply chain, the farmers are sure to suffer.”

Biala is the director for growing operations of a Richmond, Virginia-headquartered multinational firm.

As an executive of a contractor, Biala said it is but expected for tobacco manufacturers to buy less processed leaf from them next year with higher taxes in place.

“It is difficult to explain to farmers why we are buying their produce at lower prices and lesser volume,” he said.

Rising costs

FOR 67-year-old tobacco farmer Ernesto Lacaden Calindas, prices of their tobacco are just one of his worries.

Calindas, who has been planting tobacco for 20 years, has seen production costs ever rising, with the scarcity of farm workers as one of the reasons.

He said he’s now paying P350 (nearly $7) per hectare per head since laborers have been scarce. It used to be less than P300 (about $5.73 at current exchange rates). Laborers, he explained, have opted to shift to other sectors such as construction, which offers way higher wages. To note, the legislated minimum daily wage in Ilocos Sur for plantation workers is pegged at P295 (about $5.64) and P282 ($5.39) for non-plantation workers.

Another cost is the shortage in fuelwood, which farmers use in curing or cooking tobacco, Calindas said. He spends around P60,000 ($1,146.25) for his total fuelwood requirement at an estimated current cost of P1,000 ($19.10) per cubic meter.

Calindas estimates the production cost of tobacco right now is at least P130,000 ($2,483.55) per hectare. A farmer should produce at least 1,800 kilograms of tobacco to break even, he added.

Industry decline

DECLINING: this is how government data paints the country’s tobacco industry in terms of output, farmers and area in the past decade.

The industry attributed the decline in these three areas to farmers who are aging and who are migrating to higher-income-generating jobs, such as construction work. The industry also blames higher excise taxes.

“We used to produce 160 billion sticks of cigarettes but it went down to 74 billion sticks in 2017,” NTA chief Roberto L. Seares told the BusinessMirror.

The country’s tobacco output declined at a compound annual growth rate of 5.76 percent from 2010 to 2018.

Tobacco production in 2018 fell to a decade-low of 43.241 million kilograms, which is 10.25 percent lower than the 48.179 million kilograms recorded in 2017.

Tobacco output peaked in 2011 at 79.329 million kilograms, just a year before the Sin Tax Law of 2012 was enacted.

Meanwhile, the area planted with tobacco has declined by an average of 4.19 percent from 2010 to 2018. Total tobacco area last year was estimated at 22,794.95 hectares, which is nearly 32 percent smaller than the 33,502.75 hectares recorded in 2010.

Top buyers

SEARES, however, said the NTA couldn’t “do anything about it [tobacco tax law].

“We just have to support it and help the government,” he said recalling the months-long deliberation on the Tobacco Tax Law.

Still, Seares said the Philippine tobacco industry is still waiting for the fat lady to sing.

He even believes local tobacco output won’t fall any further below 43 million kilograms.

“I don’t think it will go below the 43 million kilograms [we produced last year]. We have high demand for global market and they are demanding about 32 million kilograms,” Seares said.

“[Foreign buyers] love our products due to the taste and aroma. For example, our burley cigarette is very competitive against that of American cigarettes,” he added.

The country’s combined unmanufactured and manufactured tobacco exports in 2018 rose by 36.29 percent to a record high of 79.875 million kilograms from 58.606 million kilograms, NTA data showed.

According to the NTA, the increase was driven by the doubled volume of shipments in manufactured tobacco in 2018, which reached 41.963 million kilograms from 18.476 million kilograms in 2017.

The NTA data also showed that the value of the country’s total tobacco exports grew by 60.04 percent to $511.065 million from $319.337 million in 2017.

Seares said the country’s top buyers are Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, the United States and Belgium, among others.

You can’t stop

Aside from the bright export demand, Seares believes higher taxes would fail to dampen local demand for cigarettes but only prompt smokers to shift to cheaper brands.

“Once you start smoking, you cannot stop it,” Seares, a medical doctor by profession, said.

Interestingly, a study by Myrna S. Austria of De La Salle University and Jesson A. Pagaduan of the Asian Development Bank revealed the rise in cigarette prices has resulted in a decrease of smoking intensity, or the amount sticks consumed by a smoker, more than in a decrease in the number of users (smoking prevalence).

“The results show that the increase in excise tax has been effective in reducing cigarette consumption in the country and in making cigarette demand more responsive to price increases,” the authors said.

“Specifically, the tax reform has reduced the number of cigarettes purchased by smokers more than the number of cigarette users,” Austria and Pagaduan added.

The study noted its findings are consistent with previous studies that a “rise in income increases the demand for cigarettes.”

“College graduates are more likely to consume fewer cigarettes; poor households are relatively more responsive to increases in cigarette prices than rich households,” added the study titled “Are Filipino Smokers More Sensitive to Cigarette Prices Due to the Sin Tax Reform Law?: A Difference-in-Difference Analysis.”

Floor prices

Seares is urging tobacco farmers to push for higher floor prices during the tripartite meeting in September. Doing so, he explained, would help them cope with the rising production costs.

He pointed out that the floor prices make the tobacco industry unique and more profitable than other commodities.

“Tobacco is the only commodity with floor prices,” Seares said. “Other commodities have no ensured market resulting in unstable prices.”

The NTA conducts a tripartite conference every two years when new tobacco prices are decided upon. The conference serves as a venue for tobacco farmers and tobacco companies (cigarette manufacturers, tobacco dealers and exporters) to evaluate and negotiate the floor prices of unprocessed tobacco leaves.

Vicente believes that farmers would ask for an increase in floor prices, which is more than what they proposed two years ago.

During the last tripartite negotiations in 2017, farmers insisted on a P16.77 hike across all grades to cope with rising production costs.

Vicente added the rising needs of farmers are behind this push for higher floor prices.

Issues in grades

Calindas also pointed to tobacco buyers as also the reasons farmers are seeing their income decrease.

He said some tobacco buyers are downgrading the quality assessment on their produce. Because of this, Calindas said they are forced to sell their tobacco to “cowboys,” their pejorative term for illegal middle-men, during trading seasons.

He recalled his experience during the last trading season in March when a buyer offered P64 to his best-grade tobacco.

“When a ‘cowboy’ asked me, I told him P77 but we agreed on P75,” Calindas said. He sold his product at that price only to learn later the “cowboy” sold his goods to the buyer he originally approached.

Seares said they have conducted training with traders to harmonize standards and leaf grading. Plus, he added, NTA officials accompany farmers to the trading market when dealing with legitimate traders.

He also encouraged tobacco farmers to complain directly to him if they experience irregularities in leaf grading from legitimate traders.

Vicente said that since the floor prices were increased, unscrupulous buyers tend to downgrade the quality of tobacco sold to them by farmers to avoid paying higher prices.

It’s a perennial problem in the industry, according to Vicente, who added this has forced farmers like Capilas to sell their produce to “cowboys.”

“Sa ibang bansa po ang grader ay galing sa gobyerno upang hindi maging biased. Dapat gobyerno po talaga upang wastong mapatupad ang floor prices [In other countries, the grader is a government representative to avoid biases. It should really be government so that the floor prices could be properly applied],” he said.

Vicente said they have been proposing that instead of private entities only NTA officials or employees grade tobacco produce during trading season to avoid certain biases.

Revenue deprivation

Tobacco industry stakeholders, particularly end-users, have been urging the government to curb the proliferation of illicit cigarette trade in the country.

Stakeholders have also cautioned the government that higher excise taxes on tobacco products would encourage more illicit cigarette trade in the country.

In late June, the tobacco private-sector representatives requested a meeting with the NTA board to discuss illicit cigarette trade.

During the meeting, the private sector disclosed that the amount of seized illicit cigarettes in 2018 doubled to 157 million sticks worth P628 million from 89 million, valued at P356 million, in 2017, according to NTA.

Illicit cigarette brands are sold for as low as P20 per pack to P40 per pack in the domestic market, greatly cheaper than the P51 per pack to P78 per pack of legal brands, the NTA added.

Illicit cigarette trade not only damages business operations of legitimate manufacturers but also deprives the government of revenues, NTA said.

Sound the alarm

VICENTE sounded the alarm that the expansion of programs that could be funded by LGUs through tobacco excise taxes could lessen pro-farmer projects even while the industry is still thriving.

He said they have called the attention of LGUs funding projects like construction of water fountains and covered courts, saying these do not benefit tobacco farmers.

“Ang alam nila tanga kami para magreklamo. Pero sa pangalan namin pinapadaan iyong bilyon-bilyong pondo na hindi naman kami ang nabubusog [They regard us as idiots for complaining but they use billions of funds using the name of the organization],” he said.

Rights Services Inc. (Rights) said it is high time that LGUs included tobacco farmers in their budget process.

Rights noted that doing so would ensure that the “sin” taxes allocated to every tobacco-producing LGU would be used for the benefit of the farmers.

“Allowing tobacco farmers to directly participate in the local budget process is expected to further improve their income and eventually help them shift to healthier and more productive crops,” Rights Program Manager Cynthia Esquillo said in a statement.

The last leaf

CALINDAS considers himself lucky compared to other tobacco farmers.

As a Candon City resident, he receives P15,000 (about $286.98) in cash for every hectare that he plants with tobacco. The assistance comes from the excise-tax share that Candon receives annually from Virginia tobacco production. Candon City also provides tobacco farmers with free farm inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and insecticides, among others.

He explained that some farmers in other tobacco-producing provinces do not receive any assistance from their LGUs.

“Kung gusto pa nila kaming mag-survive, dapat dagdagan pa nila ’yung assistance sa amin; lalo na ’yung cash assistance—siguro P50,000 para sa kahoy, saka konting gas. Pero hindi pa rin iyon sasapat [If government really wants us to survive, they should increase the assistance to about P50,000 for our fuelwood and gas; albeit these wouldn’t be enough],” Calindas said.

Calindas only learned during the interview, a day after the signing of the law, that excise taxes would increase anew next year.

He went temporarily pale, like having seen a ghost, and glanced at the rice farm behind his house.

“Pinirmahan na talaga? Kung ganyan lang din naman, baka tumigil na ako sa pagto-tobacco [The President signed the law? If that’s the case, I may have to stop planting tobacco],” he said.
This program highlights how former rebels have turned to farming for a more stable future.




This radio piece narrates how a Benguet family invested in growing wild berries at their farm.
2021 Best Radio
Polig Family propagates wild berries in Tublay

Good Morning, ka-kumpletos rekados! Welcome to our segment, Kumpletos Rekados, AgriSerbisyo!

Can you still remember eating wild berries during your childhood? Do your children familiar with those wild berries? It seems, the majority of kids today don't even know or
have seen a wild berry?

But here's good news to all!

The Polig family at Km. 21 Gulon, Ambassador, Tublay, Benguet headed by their
patriarch former Vice Mayor Ben Polig started to propagate several species of wild berries.

Ms. Grail Polig-Labutan, spokesperson and one of the managers of the farm said that their father conceptualized the propagation of wild berries inside their property as these
are nutritious and rich in antioxidants. It was also observed that because of development, these berries are nearing extinction. While the majority of their neighbors
are focused on coffee and lemon production, the family agreed to their head of the
family that there is a need to reproduce these wild berries for the next generation. The
farm will also serve as a learning site, especially for children.

Ms. Grail shared that children who passed by on their farm are amazed to see different kinds of berries and are happy to have photos of the plants.

Meantime, they are the first family in Benguet if not in the entire Cordillera region to invest in the propagation of indigenous berries like Ayosip(blueberry), Daluyot (Wild White mulberry), Bennaken, Agobangbang, Gumbais cape (gooseberries), Creeping
Raspberry, Binnok, Pangguteten, Digway, Raspberry (pinit), Ngamoy(Red wild mulberry), Lusong, and Anggey. These berries are grown in plain or mountain soi
l without fertilizers may it be compost or commercial. Ms. Grail explained that they tried
to put some "compost" but the leaves wilted.

Before the establishment of the Polig's Farm, wild berries are already abundant in the
area like the pinit, ayusip, and wild mulberries and most children of today's generation
are not familiar with these berries.

They also cultivate some imported berries like Thailand cape (gooseberries), Europian
blackberry, Jaboticaba Brazilian grapes, California loquat, strawberry guava, Lemon Cherry guava, and California Pomegranate.
Aside from berries, the family also grew Palayen (Oak Tree), pitcher plant, Peanut Butter plant, Granada (Pomegranate), and American Passion Fruit.
Ms. Grail explained that all the members of the family help in the development of the
farm that started seven years ago. The property has a total land area of thirteen
hectares but only seven hectares are developed at present.

The family is considering transforming the farm into Eco-Tourism Farm but there are
various projects yet to be implemented based on their dad's plans.

They are now in close coordination with the local government unit of Tublay especially
that the Polig's Farm is being considered as one of the few best destinations in the

(Rose Malekchan)
This piece details how our farmers were affected by the rice trade liberalization law.
Pre- and post-rice trade liberalization law, big traders gaming farmer groups

October 31, 2019

RIGHT from the get-go, experts had projected the opening up of the Philippine rice market as the gateway to a better life for Filipinos: lower staple prices leading to slower inflation and lesser hunger.
Indeed, the liberalization of the country’s rice industry allowed the unabated entry of cheaper imported staple.
As figures released by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) showed, about 1.614 million metric tons (MMT) of rice from seven countries entered the Philippine market, from March 5, when Republic Act 11203 (the rice trade liberalization law) took effect, to October 4.
The BPI data showed over 208 rice importers were behind the volume of imports. Surprisingly, more than half of these are farmer-members of cooperatives or irrigators’ associations. The BPI data also revealed that, as of August 30, over 120 farmers’ cooperatives and associations applied to import rice since RA 11203, or the rice trade liberalization law, took effect.
They accounted for 51 percent (about 1.427 MMT) of the 2.776 MMT applied volume for rice imports, BPI data showed.
The BPI approved all of these applications with sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-IC): the last piece of paper that allowed these groups to proceed with their importation.
From NFA scheme to dummy games
BUT one may wonder: why are Filipino rice farmers importing rice?
Industry sources told the BusinessMirror this is not the first time rice farmers did. In fact, they have been doing it for years now, even with the pre-RA 11203 era.
Mario Pilapil (not his real name), a long-time farmer-leader privy to the dealings of farmers cooperatives, told the BusinessMirror that importation of rice has been a regular “sideline” business for these cooperatives.
Pilapil explained that these farmer groups learned the ropes of “importation” through the importation programs of the National Food Authority (NFA), the government’s grain trade overseer.
Since the inception of the NFA’s “farmers-as-importers,” or FAI, program more than a decade ago, cooperatives were introduced to the business of importation, including its good side and its bad side, according to Pilapil.
However, he said that big players started to prey on cooperatives when the country’s minimum access volume (MAV) for rice imports rose to 805,200 MT in recent years.
The NFA’s cap on the allowable volume that every eligible importer could bring into the country gave birth to the dummy scheme, he added.
Pilapil said a private trader—for example, one with a cap of 50,000 MT—connives with farmers organizations to corner additional volumes provided in the importation program.
Farmers’ organizations, in previous NFA importation programs, were allowed to import a maximum of 5,000 MT.
Unscrupulous traders
PILAPIL said it was by tapping the allowed importation capacity of farmers’ groups that big rice industry players secured more control of the stocks coming into the country. Hence, this allowed these big players to easily calibrate the release of the staple in the market to maintain high profits, he added.
Further, unscrupulous rice traders undertake such scheme to take advantage of privileges provided to importer-cooperatives, such as leniency in documentary requirements and even tax exemptions, he added.
These rice traders also serve as the financiers of the cooperatives so the latter can comply with government requirements for rice importation, such as bank statements, proof of warehouse and exporter networks.
“The NFA is aware of this scheme but cannot do anything about it because there was no sanction for selling your import rights or permits that time,” Pilapil told the BusinessMirror. “It’s technically legal. They didn’t see anything illegal about it. You applied for the quota and sold your rights.”
He further revealed that the dummy scheme cuts across the country; there is even a Mindanao cohort that engages cooperatives based in that island-group for such business transactions. To date, that group is still alive and working, Pilapil said.
“Imagine, some of the cooperatives in Mindanao are in the mountains—way outside the city proper—and yet they are able to import,” he said.
NFA documents confirmed that almost all of the rice-importing farmers’ cooperatives today were also participants in the agency’s MAV programs in the past years.
Source of income
THE BusinessMirror found out that government regulators were well aware, and even foresaw, that such unscrupulous scheme would be the inevitable fruit of the original NFA scheme.
Former Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano told the BusinessMirror the NFA created the FAI program so that rice farmers would have an alternative source of income in times of production shortfall. This was especially during the time that the country was way below self-sufficiency.
Serrano explained during an interview at his home in Victoria, Laguna, that the FAI program had two key goals. The first is to allow farmers to engage in importation and earn additional money, which they could invest for competitiveness. The second goal was to expose farmers to the international market and, hopefully, appreciate price signals.
“The intention of the program was to lessen the prejudice of importation to the principal sector that will be affected by the importation, which are the farmers,” he said.
“Technically, the program also allows the farmers to exercise restraint and control over additional imported volumes,” Serrano added. “So if they see the market is being flooded with rice, they can choose not to import, hence, stabilizing prices.”
Inevitable monster
FORMER NFA Administrator Gregorio Tan Jr. told the BusinessMirror they had foreseen that farmers participating in the FAI program would just eventually sell their rights to bigger players since they don’t have the financial and operational capabilities.
But, Tan pointed out, there was another possibility: farmers entering into joint-venture agreements with bigger players.
“These possibilities were recognized. And these were accepted bottom lines,” Tan explained.
“Since the farmers would be the ones adversely affected by rice importation, then why not give them the opportunity to make some money out of it? Whether selling rights or entering into joint venture,” he added.
According to Tan, who headed the NFA from 2004 to 2006, they wanted the farmers to become the “gatekeepers” of importation so that they could influence the market in terms of supply and stabilize farm-gate prices.
No harm, no foul
THE issue of cooperatives as dummies were not a big issue back then, since the FAI was only a new program and the players were fewer compared to today, Tan said.
Further, he said the purpose of the importation, which is to provide additional supply for the domestic market, wasn’t defeated—whether these be by legitimate cooperatives or by dummies.
Tan said there were also penalties for unused import allocation since it would jeopardize the whole program and put the country’s supply at risk.
“And maybe for these cooperatives, if there is no harm, then [there’s] no foul,” he said. “But now, I don’t see any reason why farmers would be the ones importing since it is an open market.”
Serrano said connivance between unscrupulous rice traders and farmers cooperatives was inevitable.
“Unfortunately, the issuances did not contain safeguards for abuse or misrepresentation. And this is a perennial problem in rule-making,” he said.
“When you provide for special privilege or flexibility for something, a positive action, in the absence of safeguards, leads to a lot of abuses,” he added.
UNIVERSITY of Asia and the Pacific (UAP) Center for Food and Agribusiness Senior Management Specialist Senen U. Reyes explained that the aim of the FAI was to pave the way for farmers to become “agri-entrepreneurs.”
Through this program, farmers organizations (FOs), multipurpose cooperatives and irrigators’ associations participated in the NFA’s out-quota rice importation program for the private sector.
Reyes, who occupied various positions at the NFA prior to joining the academe, echoed Serrano’s view. He explained that, at that time, the government wanted to help farmers directly access the international market and give them exposure on the rice economy through importation.
The primary loophole in the program is the farmer organizations’ capacity or capability to import. Reyes said these groups, along with cooperatives, “may not have the financial capability and administrative skills to comply with the requirements.”
“This flaw may have been taken advantage of by some private sectors who ‘assisted’ farmers organizations in qualifying for import permits,” Reyes told the BusinessMirror. He said there are anecdotes that some of these organizations are being given, “and became content with, a few pesos as fee per bag or lumpsum amount offered by private financiers.”
Reyes explained there are two reasons why farmers’ organizations, multipurpose cooperatives and irrigators’ associations continued to import. For one, they may have already reached a certain level of maturity that allowed them to compete. For another, “the usual financiers/importers” continued to act as their backers.
In return, Reyes said, these financiers are able to get the supply they need while hiding behind the tax perks enjoyed by the cooperatives.
Sans surges, smuggling
REYES said the total imports of cooperatives ranged from 50 tons to as much as 31,479 tons as of August 30, based on data from the BPI.
He reckoned that based on their NFA import permits of 260 tons at $400 per ton, freight on board (FOB), this could mean at least P5.2 million in cost for 5,200 bags of rice. This does not yet include insurance, freight, tariff, trucking and storage costs.
Considering the costs of importation, Reyes said it would be imperative for the government to validate the credentials and capabilities of farmers’ organizations, multipurpose cooperatives and irrigators’ associations, in order to distinguish between those who are legitimate and those who do their business without suspicion.
“It is unfortunate that farmers’ organizations and co-ops are being used, and this practice must be stopped. This is not something new. However, with the RTL [rice trade liberalization], it may not make sense to perpetuate this practice as importation is open to all interested parties without import volume and timing restrictions,” Reyes said. “Hopefully when the situation has normalized, import volume and price movements will be driven by supply and demand sans surges and smuggling.”
Spawned an industry
MONETARY Board Member Bruce Tolentino agrees with Reyes, saying that instead of empowering farmers, the system that allowed cooperatives to import rice “spawned an industry where the licenses were sold.”
Tolentino said this was one of the reasons cited to justify the removal of NFA’s regulatory functions under the RTL law. He said the NFA’s powers to grant licenses is one of the issues why the rice sector has “distorted” the rice trade.
Unfortunately, these permits issued by NFA continue to be in effect. Prior to the passage of the RTL in January 2019, Tolentino, who used to be the Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning during the term of Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez at the helm of the Department of Agriculture, said there were already licenses and permits issued and some have not been used. And these are still being honored by the Bureau of Customs. Nonetheless, he said, the numbers of these permits have already declined.
As opposed to the sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances, Tolentino said, the primary goal was to ensure health and safety. The clearance did not grant any volume or attempt to impose price controls on rice imports.
Tolentino said under an RTL regime, the SPSIC should not only be strict enough to protect Filipinos, but should also not become a barrier to trade. Otherwise, this would open the Philippines to trade disputes and complaints from its main trading partners at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Practice continued
A PERSON privy to matters concerning rice importation among local cooperatives explained that many of these groups do not have the capacity to import and were just “dummies” for Metro Manila-based traders.
Renato Cruz, not his real name, said there are over 20 cooperatives who import rice in his province. However, many of them not only lack the funds to import large volumes of rice, but also do not own warehouses that can be used to store their purchases.
Nonetheless, such practice is deemed within the law.
Cruz said that in order to “purchase” rice, they declare their warehouses as “leased” properties and not part of the assets of the cooperative. This “legality” allowed these cooperatives to import rice under the MAV importation of the NFA.
The farmer explained to the BusinessMirror that importing rice at the time of the MAV allowed cooperatives to earn substantially. Cruz further said that big traders in Metro Manila pay these farmers’ organizations, cooperatives and rice millers to earn P50 per bag of imported rice. The liberalization of the rice trade limited their earnings to around P3 per bag to P5 per bag. Despite the 90-percent to 94-percent decline in the payments they receive, Cruz said farmers continued the practice.
It’s better than nothing, he said. At least under this system, they are able to make P100,000. Before, under the MAV, they were able to earn millions from Manila traders, Cruz added.
The co-ops’ ironic role
ACCORDING to Cruz, the cooperatives did not even know who these traders are simply because they also operated through middlemen.
He said he has alerted the cooperatives for their role in the steep decline in rice prices: the very reason for the decline in their primary income, which is rice farming.
Cruz said traders are just using cooperatives because these groups enjoy privileges granted to them by government such as tax exemptions. He said no less than the governor begged cooperatives to stop importing any more rice.
Cruz added that cooperatives are also submitting legal documents to financiers who use these to continue enjoying the privileges meant for cooperatives. He said officials of cooperatives also issue these financiers a Special Power of Attorney.
Cruz said the cooperatives apparently only saw the income they could derive from such a scheme—and for them, whatever income that is, is enough, regardless of how much those big players who are using them are actually raking in.
After all, he said, many of the co-ops were able to pay bank loans, build offices and even warehouses. While he does not believe that the cooperatives bought farm equipment such as tractors, Cruz said he also knew of some officials and members of cooperatives who were able to buy new cars.
Further, Cruz said that despite the tons of imported rice being imported in the name of the cooperatives, only a small volume reach the province. Majority of their rice still come from local production.
Permit to import
ANOTHER source privy to rice importation, Ricardo Magsaysay (not his real name), said cooperatives have no financial capacity to import rice. He even received an offer to buy imported palay at P70 per sack to P100 per sack.
Magsaysay said currently there is an “over-inventory of rice” due to the decision of the DA to grant cooperatives a permit to import prior to the passage of the RTL law. While this has translated to lower rice prices, many wholesalers are also reaping the benefits of the RTL.
In his capacity as a businessman, he was only able to import a small amount of rice because he did not want to contend with low rice prices when it comes to commercial rice due to the “over-inventory of rice.”
Meanwhile, a farmer in Luzon who requested anonymity said that the RTL and big-ticket infrastructure projects being built in his province are displacing farmers and robbing them of a decent livelihood.
Arturo Pagkalinawan (not his real name) said that, with the harvest already small as it is and the price of unmilled rice very low, many farmers may eventually resort to other means to earn their keep.
Further, Pagkalinawan said farmers in his province are still unable to sell their palay or unmilled rice to traders and the government at this time. This was also a strong argument against any plans of the cooperatives in the province to import rice. This will be the cause of the “death” of their own local rice produce.
Pagkalinawan said the prevailing system in their province still involves traders buying palay from farmers. These traders are the ones who bring these products to the market. The problem now is that under the RTL, what the government did was to encourage the proliferation of middlemen, instead of removing them from the equation.
“For us farmers, there is no guarantee that we can still continue planting rice during the dry season because even in the wet season, we are not given any water allocation,” Pagkalinawan said in Filipino.
Edged out
PHILIPPINE Competition Commission (PCC) Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan told the BusinessMirror there will likely be a large variation in the capacity of cooperatives, millers and other farmers organizations. This will affect their ability to import rice.
Rice importation, he said, has a “thin market” where there are only a few players and, more often than not, volumes matter. The bigger player will always have an advantage because it can bring down retail costs compared to smaller players who import in smaller quantities.
Balisacan, who was also an Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning prior to becoming head of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary, said evidence is key to proving the capacity and capability of these cooperatives and other organizations to import rice.
However, he said he has already heard allegations that some cooperatives are being used as dummies. However, there has never been any evidence proving this claim.
Balisacan said it is possible that the transaction between cooperatives, rice millers and other farmers’ organizations was purely a “business deal,” which was legal.
Required tariffs
IT could also not be a competition issue outright because evidence should be established that these business deals actually had a hand in reducing competition in a sector, in this case, the rice sector.
Asked whether some cooperatives could be dummies, Balisacan said in a mix of Filipino and English: “Yeah, well, we’ve heard that before but evidence is [something] I don’t have, not that I ask [for it] but it is possible that they were able to get an import quota and, since they are small, they don’t have the capacity to renew it themselves,” he said. “So they subcontract it to large firms who already are in business.”
In general, Balisacan said the RTL law aims to promote more competition where consumers and even producers benefit. As long as firms have the capability to pay the required tariffs, they can import rice from anywhere in the world.
The law also serves as a deterrent to firms or even cooperatives who intend to behave like a cartel or become a dominant player.
“Now, anybody [who wants] to import could import provided that the tariffs are paid. And that import could serve as competitive pressure on anyone who wants to behave like a cartel or a dominant player.”
RELIABLE government sources told the BusinessMirror that “four big groups” are into the dummy scheme of trading rice.
These are in Pangasinan, Bulacan, Pampanga and Mindoro.
BPI data analyzed by the BusinessMirror showed that Bulacan leads all provinces in terms of applied importation volume with 603,012.25 MT.
This was followed by Pampanga at 274,388.83 MT, Tarlac at 127,075 MT, Occidental Mindoro at 104,703 MT, and Pangasinan at 69,830 MT.
An import application by a farmer cooperative ranges from 50 MT to almost 70,000 MT. In terms of value, the BusinessMirror estimated this would be worth from P910,000 to P1.274 billion at a conservative average of $350 per MT.
Serrano said it is not surprising that rice-producing provinces are also the ones leading the list of rice importers since farmers in these areas are already well-organized.
“Farmers’ cooperatives are strong in production areas because they are the ones that are able to avail themselves of government assistance. In terms of resource and influence endowments, they are the ones that have the capability and power through their overlords,” he said.
Face sanctions
IF there are lapses in the system, particularly on how cooperatives conduct their daily routines, Tolentino said, this should be looked into and regulated by the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA).
Cruz said the local CDA in his province also threatened to impose sanctions on erring cooperatives, especially if they allow themselves to be used by unknown financiers. He said the CDA warned that if the cooperatives are found to have misdeclared their reports, they can be sanctioned.
In July, the CDA warned duly-registered cooperatives to take “extreme precautionary measures” in dealing with unscrupulous traders that are into illegal rice trade operations.
The CDA added that cooperatives that allow unscrupulous traders to use their documents for illegal rice importation or smuggling shall face sanctions under pertinent laws.
“All cooperatives engaging in rice importation are warned to take extreme precautionary measures not to be used by unscrupulous traders/importers in rice smuggling/illegal importation and other entities/persons to use cooperative documents such as Certificate of Registration and Permits including other acts not within the provision of RA 9520,” the CDA said in its public notice.
“Please be reminded that such violation of law shall neither be tolerated nor condoned. The public is hereby advised to report directly any knowledge pertaining thereto to the [CDA] for appropriate action,” it added.
Taxes, exemptions
BASED on Article 8 of the RA 9520, “No cooperative or method or act thereof which complies with this Code shall be deemed a conspiracy or combination in restraint of trade or an illegal monopoly, or an attempt to lessen competition or fix prices arbitrarily in violation of any laws of the Philippines.”
In terms of taxes and exemptions, RA 9520 provides that registered cooperatives that “do not transact any business with non-members or the general public shall not be subject to any taxes and fees imposed under the internal revenue laws and other tax laws.”
For cooperatives that do transact with non-members and the general public, RA 9520 provides that if cooperatives were able to accumulate “reserves and undivided net savings” of under P10 million, they will not be taxed. But if they have, they will be charged with income taxes, value-added tax and other taxes stated in the law.
However, cooperatives shall also be exempt from paying “all court and sheriff’s fees payable to the Philippine government for and in connection with all actions brought under this Code or where such actions is brought by the Authority before the court, to enforce the payment of obligations contracted in favor of the cooperative.”
Heavy price
SERRANO pointed out that it would be more difficult for the government to police the rice trade today since the industry has been deregulated.
For one, the NFA has been stripped of its powers to inspect warehouses and revoke licenses of erring rice industry stakeholders.
Serrano said the government, particularly the BPI, should do a detailed verification of the capacity of rice importers to ensure they are really a viable business for such venture.
“There should be an investigation over the track records of these cooperatives. Check for indicators of operational capabilities such as capitalization,” he said.
“If there is a disjoint between their capitalization and capacity, which could be proven by their books, they should be excluded from the importation,” he added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a former Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said the government should exert more effort in enforcing its police powers to weed out dummy cooperatives.
Pangilinan said the government has all the tools and authority to conduct warehouse inspections and check the profile of current rice importers.
Enforce the law
PANGILINAN is recommending that government should “go after the dummies.”
“Enforce the law against those who are taking advantage of the law, going around the law. Manipulation has corresponding penalties especially those who do profiteering,” he told the BusinessMirror “Revoke their licenses and business permits. File charges against them.”
Pangilinan recalled the time when the government pressed charges against dummy cooperatives and traders in 2015 due to unscrupulous rice trade dealings. The NFA was then under Pangilinan’s office and attached to the Office of the President.
In 2015, the National Bureau of Investigation discovered that some farmers’ cooperatives participating in the NFA rice importation acted as dummies for unscrupulous rice traders.
The malpractice proliferated as traders wanted to corner bulk of the import volume and take advantage of cooperatives’ privileges such as tax exemption.
Further, the malpractice led to the hoarding of rice stocks since the traders were in control of the imported volume.
Opposed to safeguards
DOCUMENTS obtained by the BusinessMirror showed that some farmers’ cooperatives, which are rice importers as well, opposed the move of the DA to impose safeguard duties on imports last month.
During the DA’s preliminary safeguards investigation, eight entities—one rice miller and seven cooperatives—submitted a templated position paper expressing their opposition to the trade remedy.
All of the eight position papers were submitted on the same day, September 24, and contained exactly the same comments.
Five of the cooperatives are located in Pampanga, while one is in Mindoro and the other one in Bulacan. The rice miller is registered in Metro Manila.
Government sources told the BusinessMirror they were surprised when they received the position papers, with some saying it was “disheartening” to some extent.
“Why are these farmers’ cooperatives complaining about a measure that is aimed to protect them? So, the decline in farm-gate prices, due to higher imports, is a self-inflicted injury?” the person privy to the matter said.
Registered as importer
IN their position papers, the cooperatives and the rice miller argued that the imposition of safeguard duties would lead to “tightening of the supply of rice and spiraling of the prices of rice.”
Further, they argued that it would “encourage smuggling, as others declare rice as other commodity and with government losing billions of pesos in customs revenues.”
The BusinessMirror cross-checked the eight entities with publicly available BPI data and found out that all of them were registered with the agency as rice importers.
In fact, the seven cooperatives alone applied for a total import volume of 94,308.33 MT, which has an estimated value of at least $33 million (or over P1.7 billion) from March 5 to August 30.
As of October 4, BPI data showed that the seven cooperatives have imported already nearly 85,000 MT of rice, which is estimated to be worth $29.75 million or P1.547 billion.

This piece discusses how urban farming can help communities become self - sufficient during difficult times.
2021 News Story Regional
Urban farming gaining ground amid pandemic

A small group in a village at the southern side of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental has started planting seeds of hope amid the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

It has begun to grow a movement aimed at enabling people to be self-sufficient specifically on providing for their basic needs, mainly food, during these trying times.

It now looks forward to further sharing with other groups across urban communities in the country the right mindset towards integrated farming as a way to cope with the crisis.

"Plant. Grow. Share." is its battle cry.

Repair shop to farm

Fourteen years ago, Bacoleño Ian Fred Solas was already into urban farming. In fact, he already had a farming system called aquaponics in their backyard in Barangay Pahanocoy during that time.

His family grew high-value crops like lettuce and broccoli, among other vegetables for their consumption.

The 39-year old electrical engineer recalled, though, that his interest in urban farming was not that huge yet. "Ara lang da siya ya eh, pero wala matutukan [the system was just there, but I was not really focusing into it]," he shared.

But, not anymore in 2018 when he started putting more concentration on integrated urban farming. This, after he has perfected the technology through self-study and research.

"We really worked hard to perfect the aquaponics system. We have watched out for gray areas,” he said, adding that "from there, we started changing the plan from just a hobby to a potential business venture."

A year after, Solas founded the startup company IF Green Technologies with the help of the Technological University of the Philippines-Visayas (TUPV) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Hub for Innovation and Value Engineering (HIVE) project.

IF stands for integrated farming.

The TUPV and DOST have recognized Solas' potential of realizing a company that can bring positive change to the community.

They assisted Solas especially on how to further improve the technology and in looking for the market. Also, he was guided and taught the right mindset.

Maximizing a huge portion of his almost a hectare automobile repair shop, Solas converted the area into an organic backyard farm.

The 700-square meter area, which used to be a place for under repair cars, is now where integrated urban farming flourishes.


Solas' group recognized that a highly-urbanized city like Bacolod where the horizontal and high-rise developments are increasing, land devoted to agriculture is limited.

Also, the soil here is not fertile compared to rural areas thus, maximizing the area to still plant within the city is a challenge, Solas said.

But, they found a way to address it. They banked on aquaponics technology.

Aquaponics is a soilless farming system where hydroponics and aquaculture are merged. It mimics the natural symbiotic relationship between fish and plants.

The system has actually been existing a long time ago but has never gained popularity yet in the province especially in its capital Bacolod City.

For IF Green Technologies, they are using fish wastes as fertilizer and used foam for cocopeat as a base instead of soil.

The plants are grown inside the net pots placed in each hole of the pipes. The water from the pond where tilapias are also grown flows in these pipes and nourishes the plants.

"Simply, the crops grow through the toxic or ammonia of the fish that turns into nitrates serving as plant nutrients," Solas explained.

Currently, the startup company produces at least 2,000 pieces of naturally-grown high-value crops like cabbage, tyrol lettuce, radish, tomato, and lady’s finger, among others harvestable in 30 to 45 days, and 2,000 red and butterball tilapias harvestable every four months.

"Aquaponics does not require extensive farm work. Once you planted the seeds, you just have to feed the fish and wait for the harvest," he added.

'Container gardening'

Another salient feature of the farm is the practice of "container gardening" which forms part of its urban farming program.

IF Green Technologies utilizes any kind of containers like PET bottles and cans, which are normally thrown as garbage.

These non-biodegradable wastes, if not managed properly, may cause flooding in the community so why not make use of it in farming, the founder said.

For the plastic bottles, for instance, they are using the half top part as net pots and the other part as containers. In an attempt to involve the community, they were buying these containers from the residents at P1 per piece.

"We wanted to stir curiosity among our neighbors about what we are doing here," Solas said.

As some residents showed an overwhelming interest, the group, later on, encouraged them to have the containers planted in their own backyard instead of just selling them.

IF Green Technologies offered these residents to buy their products if they grow vegetables.

The latter, however, realized the potential of backyard farming in attaining food security, especially amid this pandemic.

So, they opted to plant mainly for their family's consumption. Residents were able to produce for their own needs.

'Seeds of Hope'

In the bid to sustain the effort of engaging the surrounding households within the barangay, the "Seeds of Hope" project was created.

Taking advantage of the growing interest towards farming among residents who were put under strict quarantine measures due to Covid-19, IF Green Technologies kicked off its free seeds distribution initiative in March.

These imported vegetable seeds, some were bought and stocked by Sola several years ago, were repacked and made available to the residents.

Solas’ partner Pickles Yee de la Cruz said along with seed distribution, they are educating their neighbors on how to start farming, particularly maximizing available spaces in their backyard and utilizing recycled materials.

“To be able to share to the community is really the core of the project,” de la Cruz said, adding that the importance of planting, growing, and sharing is being inculcated to the residents.

Recognizing the bigger need for food during the lockdown, the group really pushed their neighbors to go into farming. “We should not wait for a lockdown to happen again to move,” she added.

Since the start of the quarantine, about 200 surrounding households were already engaged in urban farming, they already have their own backyard farms.

Aside from free seeds, residents were also taught the basics of the aquaponics system. Once they start producing, they are also encouraged to share the practice with their other neighbors.

“These seeds are literally giving hope to the community. That, once you plant a seed and grow a plant now, you have something to harvest and eat the next day,” de la Cruz shared.


About a hundred meters away from Solas’ integrated farm grows a smaller farm in the backyard of the Gregrory family.

The mother of the family, 64-year old Hannah Gregory, was among the recipients of its “Seeds of Hope” project.

Through the help of Solas, the family was able to jump-start their own “container gardening” of crops like lettuce, carrots, garlic, onion, and chili pepper.

“During the lockdown, when we were not allowed to go out, especially seniors like me, our family had more time to develop our own backyard farm,” the mother said.

Aside from serving as goods for family consumption, Gregory was also able to sell some of their produce like lettuce to her relatives. Also, she was able to start her small “sinamakan” (spiced vinegar) business.

They sell their home-made “sinamakan” using the chili pepper locally known as “katumbal” at P100 to P150 per bottle depending on size.

“It’s an added income,” she said, adding that “in times when quarantine measures are tight, we don’t need to go to the market to buy these vegetables. Rather, we will just handpick it from our backyard.”

The family also received an aquaponics system technology from Solas’ group, which is now up for operation this month. With this, they will be more capable of producing more crops.

Income potential, employment

There’s a huge income potential in urban farming, it’s economically viable. With unemployment rising as major industries experienced a slump due to the pandemic, farming is regarded as a sustainable source of livelihood.

In an integrated farming system like that of IF Green Technologies, it is capable of producing at least P1 million worth of crops and fish annually if utilizing only a 500-square meter area.

On an average, Solas said, they are now selling 450 kilograms of mixed vegetables a month. For tilapia, they are about to harvest some 1,000 heads this week.

The demand, he said, especially for vegetables has tremendously increased during the implementation of quarantine measures in the city.

Their customers are actually households, who were buying through online orders, as most restaurants have also ceased operations. For the tilapia, their clients are local resellers.

“Social media has greatly helped us in connecting with the market,” Solas said, adding that “we have seen that there’s really a room for growth in this business despite the challenges.”

Solas pointed out that what’s good with urban farming, the market is also within the city which means lesser transport cost.

“During the lockdown, most industries have slept except for agriculture as people need to eat. Thus, there is money in urban farming, we just have to invest time and effort,” he stressed.

The one-year-old company founded in a vision to contribute to the development of the community and its people has also provided direct employment opportunities to eight of their neighbors.

They are actually jobless-residents of the barangay, some were even engaged in vices before. Aside from being their source of living, the farm has also helped them in their reformation.

“Sang una tambay lang ko. Damu ko di natun-an. Nakabulig pa ko subong sa amon pamilya, [I was jobless before. I learned a lot here. I was able to help my family now],” 21-year old and high school graduate Carlito Valderama, one of the workers, told SunStar Bacolod.

Spending less, producing more

Moreover, integrated farming is a system with simultaneous activities involving crops and animals. In this system, farming components support one another hence, reducing external inputs.

For the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, the term integrated farming has been used for integrated resource management.

Affirming to this, Solas said the integration of available resources is what makes farming more sustainable.

In their farm, the aquaponics technology enables them to produce a good volume of high-value crops and fish in an easy and non-costly process.

In a ladder-type aquaponics system, for instance, they can plant 348 seeds within a small area of five feet by 10 feet.

The plants are naturally-grown as they are not using chemical fertilizers in aquaponics and “container gardening.” They also grow their own kangkong pellets and azolla or duckweeds, which are used as feeds for tilapia so they don’t need to spend for additional inputs.

The group also established its own greenhouse to naturally protect the plants from pests aside from controlling direct exposure to sunlight.

“A family can never go hungry if at least one of their members knows how to plant,” he said, stressing that one can really reap a bountiful harvest here given the right technology and proper mindset.

Reaching more communities

Certainly, this urban farming initiative has been gaining ground as it started creating a ripple of effects not only in the barangay but also to other communities outside Bacolod City.

Through partnerships with various groups, Solas said they are currently assisting communities in cities of Talisay and Silay in Negros Occidental, and even in Iloilo, Cebu, and Mindanao, that are also developing their own urban farms.

“We are providing free trainings and seminars to them,” he said.

Solas group is currently involved in the community empowerment program initiated by the Bayanihan Mission, an organization that pushes for sustainability through urban gardening, at Sitio Marna in Mandaue City, Cebu.

Aside from providing seeds, he also shares their integrated urban farming practices to the organization through virtual video conferences and discussions.

As interest in integrated urban farming from both private and public sectors continues to grow, IF Green Technologies plans to establish a learning center within the farm that will host more trainings and seminars.

It already crafted a module on urban farming to be given for free to interested individuals and groups.

Also, it has forged partnerships with some groups including schools for the replication of its integrated urban farming technology in their respective communities.

“Many are in need during these difficult times so let us not hesitate to share,” the urban farming advocate said.

Government support

The IF Green Technologies recognizes that government support is of huge importance in realizing advocacies and projects geared towards community development like its urban farming program.

In fact, they mentioned that aside from the assistance provided by the DOST, the farm has also been a recipient of tilapia fingerlings from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA), for its part, has been intensifying its efforts to push for urban farming especially during this Covid-19 pandemic believing that this will enable Filipinos to ensure food security even at the household level.

In Western Visayas, the agency has already established community gardens in three pilot sites in Iloilo City last May.

As of June 30, it has distributed 1,196.7 vegetable seeds and 5,341 vegetable seedlings in the region including Negros Occidental since the start of the quarantine through the program dubbed “Plant, Plant, Plant.”

The push for urban farming development has also gained boost as House Bill 3412 or the “Integrated Urban Agriculture Act” authored by Negros Occidental Third District Congressman Jose Francisco Benitez hurdled the House Committee on Agriculture on June 17.

The Negrense neophyte lawmaker said to address the increasing number of Filipinos experiencing hunger, it is imperative to introduce “game-changing” solutions, increasing food production by maximizing available spaces, and utilizing emerging agricultural technologies and methods particularly in urban areas where hunger incidence is prevalent.

“The promotion of household, community and school-based urban agriculture will contribute to food security and poverty reduction, strengthen community-building, support the national greening program, and instill environmental consciousness among the citizens especially the youth,” he added.

A group of researchers from his office earlier visited Solas’ farm to ask for additional inputs about integrated urban farming, which is now being aggressively promoted in the province’s third district.

Barangay level

The barangay council, meanwhile, has already started working with Solas’ group for the development of an integrated urban farming area that will serve as a learning center for the Pahanocoy residents and even those from other barangays.

Village chairman Yolanda Noble said Solas has already presented the plan to the council, and that they already identified an area at the back of the barangay hall to be planted with organic high-value crops using the technology of IF Green Technologies.

Noble said that the project, which is targeted to be realized this month, will provide livelihood opportunities to the residents especially those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

“As we position our barangay as the urban farming capital of Bacolod City, we want all 4,805 households here to have their own backyard farm,” she said, expressing optimism that this will enable about 17,000 residents to become self-sufficient.

The growing attention given by the government to urban farming development is motivating the startup company to continue the cause they have started.

For the group, there’s now a bigger chance of attaining a greener future for urban farming in the country.

“This is what we aspire for, this is the kind of harvest that we dreamt of,” the urban farming advocate said.*

This story tells of an initiative that provides an online avenue for local food producers to sell their products.
MovefoodPH serves needs of both food producers, consumers

In a sea of aging Filipino farmers, it is surprising to see a millennial taking charge. But at 33, Cherrie Atilano is already a household name in the Philippine agriculture industry, having dedicated more than half of her life in helping uplift the rural folk’s lives.

It was no surprise then when she started the #MovefoodPH initiative during the lockdown to elevate her 22-year-old advocacy, which provides an avenue for local food producers to sell their produce.

“It started with a pineapple farmer who called me to ask if I can help him sell 6,000 pineapples because he needed the money to pay his loan,” Atilano said when asked how the project came into fruition. “In three days, we were able to sell 3,500 pineapples. We updated [Agriculture Secretary William] Dar on this and he informed us that there were a lot of cooperatives needing help.”

Since the beginning of the lockdown, Movefood’s headquarters has been painted with alternating colors of bright yellow, green and red from the tons of fruits and vegetables it was buying from farmers who were in dire need of a stable market.

Despite her small team— there are only 11 people behind the program—MovefoodPH has already sold more than 150,000 kilos of fruits and vegetables from more than 10 provinces in two months, and has fed more than 33,400 families with healthy produce.

Atilano, who was named a United Nations nutrition ambassador in 2019, used her influence to reach out to markets that may not have been accessible to most. Aside from catering to households, the project also supplies the needs of private firms’ relief drives, restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, barangays and even jails.

The demand for food has been overwhelming that at times, Movefood runs out of stock—a testament that local farm products that go to waste are not due to lack of demand, but due to lack of opportunities

Ethical pricing

What separates Move from other online agricultural stores is its ethical pricing. Atilano said they made sure the products were always sold 30 to 40 percent cheaper than those found in supermarkets. Rates are always based on the Department of Agriculture’s farm-gate pricing and also follow the government’s price freeze.

“When we started Movefood, we wanted to make sure that we can pay farmers in an ethical way and at the same time, give more value to the purchasing power of consumers,” she said. “We wanted to move the food from farmers to consumers. If we go to supermarkets, we have to wait in line only to find out that the products we want are already out of stock.” Movefood began with taking bulk orders from communities, at a minimum of 100 kilos. As their network grew—they now have more than 6,000 farmers in their platform—they began taking orders without a minimum, which could either be picked up or delivered through online courier services such as Lalamove and Grab.

As most Filipino families continue to struggle with combating not just COVID-19 but also hunger, their most sought-after commodity is not rice but mung beans (munggo). Since mung beans have longer shelf life than most vegetables, companies would often take orders in bulk for their relief drives.

Other hard vegetables that are often sold out are sayote, pumpkins, carrots, potatoes and saging na saba—food that are starchy and easily filling.

Zero waste

Movefood also applies a zero-waste approach. Fruits and vegetables that are bruised from transport but are still of good quality are turned into jams and other processed products, while leftovers and peelings are not discarded but are used as compost.

Atilano also used this opportunity to teach local growers on how to properly sell their goods, as simple as removing dirt from hand picked produce before delivery and in ensuring that the quality of products would not be compromised by using the right containers during transport.

“The teaching of post-harvest standards is very important. There should be quality control. These things are significant if farmers want to expand their market,” she said.

All these initiative are not new to Atilano, whose passion for agriculture runs deep, having been raised in a sugarcane farm in Negros Occidental. Her attachment to the local soil has made her turn her back on a Fulbright scholarship, opting to stay in the country to help farmers in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm instead.

Expanding footprint Since then, the millennial has been at the forefront of the industry by starting the Marinduque-based social enterprise Agrea, which was also the starting point of the Movefood.

Even when lockdowns are already beginning to ease, Atilano vows to maintain Movefood and to continue helping in uplifting the lives and livelihood of local food growers.

With the help of other stakeholders, the group has broadened its footprint by creating pop-up stores in Makati and Quezon City. They have also diversified their products as more farmers and consumers make use of its platform.

Movefood is planning to start selling fertilizers and begin planned meal deliveries. They have also started taking orders of avocado burgers, and have made available fruits and vegetable baskets.

“There are a lot of ways to help our farmers. It doesn’t really need to be high-tech, we just have to make our solutions meaningful. We started with only a Facebook page and a Google form order, and from there we are growing. We have a lot of surprises in store for our customers,” she said.
This story recounts the effects of the quarantine on the Cordillera farming industry and their efforts to bounce back.
2021 Feature STORY Regional
How not to be dumped in February (a Cordillera agriculture story during the COVID season)
Part I

ONE of the most dispiriting images on social media during the Luzon-wide COVID-19 lockdown was farmers in Ifugao dumping their tomato produce by the roadside.
One particular post garnered 10,000 reactions and a debate in the comment section ensued.
And if that wasn’t enough, FB posts of farmers dumping cabbages and carrots in Ifugao and Benguet were also circulated.
These posts particularly struck locked-down Manila readers because cabbage was selling at more than P100 there even before the March lockdown. Tomatoes were selling at P30 in Manila public markets at that time.
This wasn’t a COVID-19 phenomenon.
In fact, there was an argument between the “Discover Nueva Vizcaya” and the Ifugao Highland Farmers’ Forum, which posted photos of tomato dumping last March 20.
“Discover Nueva Vizcaya” said that the photos were taken two years ago. One national TV network repeated DNV’s allegation.
IHFF countered that among their photos was one that showed farmers dumping their tomatoes while wearing face masks.
But dumping of produce has indeed been going on, and not only in the Cordillera.
Cameron Odsey, chief of the Department of Agriculture - Cordillera, said that farmers had been calendaring their planting months before the COVID-19 crisis .
He said that this is the first gamble farmers have to take.
Odsey said that the case of tomatoes had been a recent practice in Ifugao.
The road leading to Tinoc was completed only recently, and one of the positive results was the opening up of the market for the produce of Tinoc farmers not only in Buguias in Benguet but also in Nueva Ecija at the other end.
Tomato is largely sold in Nueva Vizcaya.
According to Odsey, tomato has become a major crop for Tinoc farmers in the summer as they have no competition from lowland farmers because of the cool weather in Tinoc as well as the relatively better irrigation necessary to grow tomatoes.
Tinoc farmers usually plant the Avatar and the Diamante varieties. They dumped their produce indeed in 2018 because of the oversupply as these varieties are prolific bearers.
But the reason for the dumping of tomatoes starting last March was because of the restriction caused by the COVID -19 lockdown.
When the lockdown was imposed, Ifugao was scheduled for vegetable trucking only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Tinoc usually delivers about 20 truckloads of tomatoes to Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Terminal in Bambang.
According to the IHFF, with the M-W-F scheduling, the trucks would arrive all at the same time and only a few were bought there.
Tomatoes are very perishable and it can take just a day to make tomatoes become overripe and therefore unsellable.
The FB posts of dumping were mostly taken in Bambang.
Odsey said that to cover production costs, tomato farmers need to sell their produce at P15 to P20 a kilo. In NVAT at that time, prices were down to P7 to P10 a kilo.
When the FB posts became viral, the restriction was lifted and trucking to NVAT became daily. The price of tomatoes then went up to P17/kilo.
But owing to the prolificacy of the tomato varieties, the cost went down to P3 to p5 a kilo weeks later, and dumping resumed.
Odsey said that the dumping of cabbage and carrots was a different matter.
These vegetables are sold to the La Trinidad Trading Post and the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center.
The Ti Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Tae'ng Kordilyera (APIT TAKO), a non-government organization concerned with Cordillera agriculture, said that the inconsistent quarantine policy of the government was devastating to the farmers.
“On 18 March, the Department of Agriculture started issuing “food passes” to facilitate passage of delivery food trucks through police-manned checkpoints. And by 22 March, DA had gotten the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to agree to unimpeded passage of delivery trucks through checkpoints, whether or not these bore government-issued food pass stickers,’ APIT TAKO said.
“But local government units along the highways leading to and from Metro Manila continued to insist on so-called border controls, and delivery trucks invariably got stuck in long queues as police checked truckers’ papers and their cargo, and perishable produce, like fruits and vegetables, often rotted or dried up. Vegetable dealers incurred heavy losses,” it added.
DA’s Odsey said that farmers scheduled the planting of these crops in late 2019 when the plausibility of a COVID-19 disaster was far from their minds.
If these and other highland vegetables would be harvested by February till the end of the summer months, they would have been bought by the tourists.
He also said that these would be the same months when fiestas and graduations would be held.
Benguet had a premonition on January 17 to 19, 2020, when Manila Mayor Isko Moreno closed the roads leading to Tondo and Divisoria for the annual Traslacion.
Divisoria can accommodate 500 tons of highland vegetables daily and fortunately, Mayor Moreno was able to help bring in the vegetable trucks there.
Then, of course, COVID happened.
“Surprisingly, potatoes and Chinese cabbage (wombok) were not as affected but tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage were,” Odsey said.
“Potatoes and cabbage were everyday food while the rest were for menudo and pancit which were fiesta fare,” he added.
Cabbage went to as low as four to seven pesos per kilo during the height of the lockdown.
At that time, while most parts of the country, including the Cordillera region, were easing up on their lockdowns, Manila went into modified enhanced community quarantine in August, causing the movement of trucks to be controlled again.
Many of the produce left at the trading post in La Trinidad were stalled and Benguet came out with the scheduling of entry through municipal clusters.
Concerned municipalities, particularly Buguias which accounts for the majority of the production, suffered as a result and the clustering was discontinued.
Cases of COVID-19 among the biyaheros or the farmworkers delivering produce in Manila hit La Trinidad and the trading post was repeatedly closed for disinfection and contact tracing.
“The decline in vegetable trading was also due to other restrictive quarantine decisions. Government early on banned hotel and restaurant operations and social gatherings,” said APIT TAKO.
“These accounted for a significant percentage of carrot, wongbok, lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli consumption. Worse, the government’s stringent guidelines resulted in a halt to public transport, suspension of construction activities, and closure of factories and other workplaces. And the government was slow and inefficient in providing support for the survival of displaced workers and their families,” it added.
In the end, the National Economic Development Authority - Cordillera said that agriculture in the Luzon area suffered and almost 77 percent of its losses was due to unsold agricultural produce.
Of this, about P25 million were from high-value crops like those in the Cordillera.
To the bleeding (and the dumping), the government and all the other stakeholders would have to come up with solutions.
And one of the solutions came crash landing like that of the favorite Koreanovela.

Will you catch me when I fall: stopping tomato dumping in Tinoc

Part II

WHAT to do with rotten tomatoes other than throwing them at the faces of your hated politicians?
Last May 2020, the Department of Agriculture - Cordillera (DA-CAR) was tasked with disposing tons of tomatoes thrown by disgruntled farmers from Tinoc near the trading post in Nueva Vizcaya after it was reported that there was a tomato glut and Ifugao farmers were throwing their tomatoes away.
The tomato dumping started in February and went on during that period.
There were more where they came from, the farmers said. They just didn’t bother to harvest them and just left them to rot on their plots.
DA-Cordillera Regional Director Cameron Odsey said that the tomatoes were initially sold through the Kadiwa Express, DA's trading arm. Last May, about three tons were even bought by only three entities.
Other than tomatoes, the Kadiwa Express was able to sell 530 tons of assorted highland vegetables worth P16 million, mostly from Benguet, to more than 50 huge buyers.
The Kadiwa on Wheels and the Kadiwa retail stores were also able to sell more than 17 tons worth P14 million.
One of the more altruistic deeds was done by Ifugao towns buying these Tinoc tomatoes. Kiangan started the practice and was followed by the other towns.
According to the records of the DA-CAR, the other LGUs outside of Cordillera had bought more than 250 tons of vegetables from the region amounting to P7.3 million since April last year. These LGUs included Bugallon and Binmaley in Pangasinan; Orani in Bataan; San Ildefonso, Bocaue; and Balagtas in Bulacan. These towns distributed the veggies to their constituents as part of their ayuda.
Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said that fixing the distribution problem should be the key so that the private sector can resume their trade.
“DA Kadiwa and the LGUs can help but their activities are costly and unsustainable,” he said.
“And the volumes are too big for them to handle,” he added.
The Philippine Army’s Northern Command in Angeles City also opened in late May a trading post in nearby San Fernando City to sell highland vegetables.
Other than mercy buying, groups helping the Tinoc farmers advocated for food processing facilities.
The Ifugao Highland Farmers Forum said that a processing facility for tomatoes should be large enough to handle the glut.
“With tons going to waste, what is needed is a large processing facility,” it said in its position paper.
“The processing plant in Ilocos (Norte) is too far and the table tomato varieties being produced and traded here at NVAT -- the diamante and avatar varieties -- may not be the ideal varieties for making tomato catsup and other commercial tomato products,” it said.
Sun-drying tomatoes was one other suggestion.
“With many women’s organizations in Nueva Vizcaya having small-scale drying facilities, locals surely need to learn the technology to dry and package the tomatoes into saleable products,” IHFF said.
Odsey said that among the recommendations DA cited is the exploration of alternative markets.
He said that they are planning to partner with San Miguel Corporation for the distribution of tomatoes and other highland vegetables.
Odsey also said that they are planning for a marketing hub at the Food Terminal Inc. In Taguig, Metro Manila.
“The MOA (memorandum of agreement) between DA and FTI is still being facilitated. Its immediate approval will address storage area requirements of Cordillera vegetables,’ he said.
He also said that a processing facility was proposed to be installed at the BAPTC in La Trinidad.
Well, the agricultural gods must have heard them.
DA Secretary William Dar, who was a long-time president of Benguet State University, said that he is allocating P60 million (DA Cordillera was only expecting P20 million) for vegetable processing, packing, and cold storage facilities.
Dar said P40 million will be for the vegetable processing facility and P20 million for the packing facility, including cold storage.
He said that instead of BAPTC, the processing facility will be in Buguias (which is nearer Tinoc) and the packing and cold storage facility will be along Halsema Highway, possibly in Atok town.
DA also gave BAPTC last November a revolving fund of P20 million for the purchase of excess and unsold vegetables which can then be processed.
“This is part of the government’s effort to help our farmers so that they will not just throw away their agricultural produce. The BAPTC will buy them and process them,” Benguet Governor Melchor Diclas said.
Of course, tomatoes will rot if only government agencies are involved. The private sector should also be passing the catsup, so to speak.
Perhaps the best story to come out with the garbage tomatoes issue, as IHFF would have it, is the story of CLOY.
CLOY is more known as the acronym of Crash Landing On You, a Koreanovela which became famous during the COVID-19 lockdown.
One of those who became couch potatoes during the lockdown was former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat. He belonged to an international NGO but the pandemic had made him sedentary, so he started watching Koreanovelas and became enamored by them.
That was until Jerome Dumlao, his college friend and good friend, told him that his bed-and-breakfast inn in Baguio was gathering dust.
It was at that time that the news about tomatoes from Ifugao being dumped on the road hit social media.
“We thought that there would be smaller players in the vegetable trading business who can go directly to the farmers and buy their products at fair prices,” Baguilat, who actually started improving the road of Tinoc during his representative days, said.
He and the Dumlao couple (Tina is a news editor) decided on the idea of selling tomatoes, vegetables, and other Cordillera products to Manila.
It was Baguilat who decided to use CLOY in their social enterprise but instead of “Crash Landing On You,” he tweaked it to “Cordillera Landing On You.”
The idea was to sell not only Cordillera produce but also other products like facemasks from Cordillera woven products, peanut brittle, Benguet coffee, ube jam, woven face masks from Abra and Ifugao, Sagada lemons and etag or highland ham, walis tambo, and many others.
Buyers can order by going into the CLOY FB page. On Sundays, Jerome goes down to Manila to deliver the orders.
In time, CLOY became so popular that they decided to include products from other indigenous groups, like honey and avocados from the Mangyans in Mindoro.
Baguilat said that when CLOY took off, the dumping of tomatoes actually ended and they were left with no more tomatoes to sell.
“I still honestly think that we need to overhaul the trading system dominated by big players. They’re the ones getting richer while the farmers were gambling leaving the consumers with no choice. We in CLOY, we’re just a very small player. But still, in my experience, the big traders dictate the prices,” Baguilat said.
“In Tinoc, it was really a case of oversupply worsened by the lockdown. Which made transport a gamble that’s why they decided to just dump them. But now prices are high so I’m sure everyone is planting tomatoes again,” he added.
Agriculture remains a gamble but should the tomato glut commence again, the DA, down to the small players like CLOY, will be there to catch the fall.

“When you get dumped, you just love them harder” -- More ways to stop vegetable dumping in Cordillera

Part III

IN the first week of February, a Facebook post showed a truck of radishes being given away in front of Wright Park.
It was deja vu again for Cordillera netizens who have time and again been bombarded with FB posts of tomatoes, cabbages, carrots and even cutflowers being dumped on roadsides.
Then they heaved a collective sigh of relief when it turned out that the barangay there had bought the radishes as an act of charity.
As it turned out, vegetable farmers have been making a killing with their produce since November, said Department of Agriculture Cordillera Regional Director Cameron Odsey.
He said that cabbages, for example, have been selling for more than P100 a kilo since the start of the year.
Compare that to the five pesos per kilo in March and April last year, when some of the farmers thought it better not to harvest and just leave them to rot on the fields.
As discussed earlier, the problem with last year’s vegetable dumping was largely on the problem of demand. The cancellation of fiestas and parties during the COVID lockdowns contributed to this.
“Beyond supply chain disruptions, the longer-lasting effects of COVID-19 are likely to be felt on the demand side,” said the World Bank paper, Transforming Philippine Agriculture During Covid-19 and Beyond.
“It is highly likely that the collapse in output and employment following the economic lockdown will have knock-on effects on demand, including demand for food,” it said.
DA-Cordillera was tasked to look for solutions to the dumping problem. One of the recommendations was the use of crop programming.
“Crop climate calendars augment traditional crop calendars by not only specifying planting and harvest schedules but also describing phenological states, cultivation practices and weather and climate requirements that any crop faces throughout a cropping season,” said an April 2020 paper from Philippine Institute for Development Studies on the development of crop programming for Benguet.
“The case to document this information in Benguet is compelling: The mountainous province experiences a unique microclimate and phenomena such as frost and hail and derives income from the cultivation of high value crops such as carrots, cabbage and potatoes amidst this,” it said.
Odsey said that introducing crop programming will take more than phenology or the study of periodic events in vegetable gardening and how these are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors such as elevation.
He said that the tendency to gamble among Benguet farmers is also a major factor.
“They will take risks. There is a tendency for them to go for broke,” he said.
“The crop programming scheme in Atok was never formalized nor implemented,” the PIDS paper said.
“Its promotion has been limited to IEC materials. The farmers recognized, however, that it might be better if all farmers in Atok followed the scheme, which they understand would lead to less fluctuations in prices; however it has been much different in practice,” it added.
And as it turned out, the Benguet farmers were dealt a good hand during the end of 2020.
“While we were affected by Typhoon Ulysses, the effect was not so great as it was in the lowlands. About twenty percent of the crops were damaged in the region,” Odsey said.
He said that the Benguet vegetables had to take over the absence of lowland vegetables, which caused the prices to escalate.
“By February, the lowland vegetables were recovering. You can see this from the prices of wombok (Chinese cabbage) coming down as the harvest for lowland pechay are beginning to come in,” Odsey said.
DA-Cordillera also fast-tracked the establishment of vegetable processing centers to prevent vegetable dumping.
He said that P60 million had been earmarked for these centers.
“As of now, most of the post-harvest processing is minimal,” Odsey said.
“This includes trimming, cleaning and packaging them like the chopsuey packages,” he said.
“We have to take into account that buyers expect their highland vegetables to be mostly fresh,” Odsey said.
The next processing we will be introducing is juicing especially for carrots and broccoli, he said.
DA-Cordillera is also planning to create kimchi and sauerkraut, he said.
“But these are special markets,” Odsey said.

This story illustrates how agriculture-tourism transformed idle land into a productive and sustainable enterprise for its community.
An agritourism site fosters sustainable agriculture to strengthen communities

After 14 years of abandonment, a family-owned land in Pampanga was redeveloped by a couple as a way of giving honor to their late father. Tibby’s farm is an 11-hectare farm located in Angeles, Pampanga that aims to empower people through training them on natural farming for inclusive growth.

Angelo Valencia, known as Kuya Pultak, a lawyer by profession, decided to put up the farm four days after he left his post as a Chief Operating Officer in an agricultural company where his love for farming was rooted. He refers to this work experience as the destiny that led him to be a farmer.

The name Tibby’s Farm was derived from his wife’s nickname Tibang, which he converted into English. The lot where Tibby’s farm stands today was passed down through several generations of his wife’s family for more than 60 years. In those years, their ancestors raised cattle and grew crops like rice, vegetables, and sugar. In 2016, the farmer asked his wife to develop the land to honor and fulfill the wish of his late father-in-law.

The development stage
Their early days on the farm were quite challenging; tall grasses and wild animals welcomed them. To roam around, Valencia had to ride a car to protect himself from the attacks of wild carabaos. After a few years of planting different crops and gradually turning the lot into areas for food production, animal raising, and accommodation, the farm is now fully established and operational. From an idle land, it has successfully evolved into a tourism and learning site that continuously makes opportunities available for everyone.

When it comes to maintenance, Tibby’s farm practices natural farming techniques including the use of animal wastes for compost and by not using pesticides. They cultivate vegetables that are present in the song Bahay Kubo, which varies depending on the season.

Tibby’s farm also houses free-range chickens, horses, and goats. They used to keep hogs, but when African swine fever (ASF) occurred in Pampanga, over 180 hogs on the farm were culled. As per Valencia, they won’t raise pigs for the next five years for the farm’s safety.

One distinct animal on the farm is named Bambi, a goat that keeps the guests entertained due to her warm and welcoming nature. Unlike other goats, Bambi isn’t the type that leaves when visitors come close. She is comfortable around humans to the point that she naps, eats, and stays close to them.

A farm with a purpose
More than an agritourism destination, Valencia highlights their private initiative for a public purpose, which is to serve and empower communities through agriculture. Tibby’s farm works under a company called Community Sustainability Ventures Inc. (CSV), a social entrepreneur company that creates shared value with corporations, institutions, and communities.

Through this, Valencia works with corporations for funding support and trains the communities that the corporations host. “People are brought here [to the farm] to be trained on how they take care of their land, how to take care of their environment, and how to grow food,” said Valencia. One of the groups that they train is the Dumagat tribe from Dinapigue, Isabela. As per Valencia, the Dumagats can recognize the trees, however, they do not often know its purpose in the environment. Through the training that they hold, Dumagats learn better.

They also advocate for HEELS: health, environment, education, livelihood, and security, which they execute through HELP: helping people excel one community at a time in a sustainable manner.

Marketing the produce

When asked what happens after the communities were able to produce food, Valencia replied, “What the Dumagats produce, we make it a livelihood for them.”

Every Saturday, they conduct a market for local farmers coming from different communities and municipalities to give them a chance to bring and sell their freshly harvested crops at Tibby’s Farm. They either sell them on-site or by roaming around town using the farm vehicles to reach more customers. Some commodities that are usually gathered at the Saturday market come from Pangasinan (for Bangus), Nueva Ecija (for rice and other lowland vegetables), and Batangas (for Tilapia).

When it comes to the farm produce, most of them go to the meals served for the guests and to the daily food supply of the farmworkers. If there’s an extra harvest, they sell them in the Saturday market as well. As per Valencia, their food cost is quite low and the only thing that they usually buy is oil. If they want to eat chicken, they can easily obtain them from the farm. Aside from this, they also save money from the plants. For instance, a bushy plant or grass called Amaranth or kulitis is what they use to make a broom for sweeping.

A service for all
Tibby’s farm does not charge an entrance fee for visitors as they advocate three things: education, accommodation, and tourism (EAT). It serves as space where anyone can have access to education on agriculture, aquaculture, agroforestry, and natural farming by just roaming around the farm and interacting with the farmers.

They also offer accommodations where guests can stay and feel the richness of our culture. In these rooms, you will get to experience living in native Philippine houses like nipa huts, bale (Ifugao house), and Ivatan houses.

The reason behind this concept is to provide the Indigenous peoples (IPs) a comfortable stay when they visit the farm, given that they’ll get to sleep in a familiar structure where they are accustomed to living. The farm is also a safe place where they can freely perform their cultural practices. Valencia says, “Here, they can do their dance so they can still feel at home. They also get to see animals and trees that they're used to.”

The IPs are not just the ones who are learning, but Valencia and all the farm people learn from the IPs’ practices too as they converse with them during training.

Tibby’s farm allows educational tours every Saturday. For 80 pesos, a student can have a tour around the farm and enjoy a complimentary farm-to-table food. The farm is flexible in terms of the activities that they can offer based on the tourists’ budgets and needs.

Moreover, it is also open for rental as a venue for any occasion as it can accommodate up to 500 hundred persons. Events on the farm are a great way to support the farmers too because they can supply the giveaways for the guests using the fresh produce that they personally nurtured.

The people of Tibby’s
Presently, there’s a total of 15 workers on the farm and some of them came from the company Valencia used to work for. Following the rule of one hectare per person, four farmers are assigned to the vegetable section. One person is responsible for the facilities, the wife of one of the farmers is also set to cook for the guests, while the other nine are part of the construction team.

Valencia treats the farm and its people as one; all equal and with no hierarchy. He makes sure that no one is left out. He also lets staff live with their families on the farm if they opt to. He says, “You have to know them eh, you have to consider and treat them so they will treat you like a family too. Kasi if you’re not family, panget yun diba. Family kami dito, kung anong kinakain namin, yun din yung kinakain nila. (You have to know them, you have to consider and treat them so they will treat you like a family too. Because if not, it’s not a good sight to see. We are a family here. What one eats, the other eats the same.)”

Re-greening efforts
One of their agroforestry efforts is planting indigenous trees like Philippine Talisay (Terminalia catappa). There are invasive trees planted on the farm for more than 20 years, which they cut down and changed into indigenous varieties. As per Valencia, indigenous trees are considered the hardest to cultivate on the farm as most of its species are critically endangered.

They also trimmed 15 footer invasive mahogany trees and turned them into tables and other furniture for the farm’s dining and garden area. Other trees are also used as a foundation to strengthen their facilities.

Farm challenges
So far, the biggest challenge they have faced is the weather. As per Valencia, there was one time when the rainfall lasted for 21 days, which resulted in the death of some plants and goats. When it comes to the market, it was also challenging at first, but eventually, Tibby’s farm has gained more attraction through the bloggers and visitors who share the farm online.

Another problem is dealing with some guests in terms of waste management. There are times when plastics are thrown by visitors everywhere. For instance, there are some cases when children tend to throw away their trash as they step out of the vehicles out of excitement. The same goes for people who smoke cigarettes in the area and throw their cigarette butts on the farm premises. This exposes the animals to possible risks as they might eat them. To prevent these things, they remind the guests about their regulations upon entering the farm. They also keep the farm cleaned and maintained by collecting waste and other unnecessary items after every event.

A closed door for bigger opportunities
As of now, Tibby’s farm is closed as to follow the protocols set by the authorities. The community quarantine has been an avenue for the entire team of Tibby’s to be empowered through lectures and experiential learning. They’ve also used the time to put up raised beds and to grow high-value crops in it including cherry tomatoes and arugula and highland vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, Chinese cabbage, and potato.

The farm hasn’t been getting sales due to the current state of the nation so Valencia opted to share their produce to restaurant owners who are providing food for the front liners of Pampanga. According to him, to stay focused on planning for the long term and to upgrade the skillsets of the whole team is what makes him busy nowadays. So when things get back to usual, they would be able to offer something new for the guests and they will be able to provide naturally raised produce to the community.

A lawyer-farmer-advocate
It was once a dream for this farmer to be an agripreneur, aquapreneur, and agroforestry practitioner who owns a farm school where the needs of food security will be addressed and imparted to the youth. Today, it is now a reality that he continues to pursue as his school project is almost one hundred percent done.

The school of practical agriculture will be a learning ground for individuals of all ages. Learners can choose from the sustainable programs anchored on agriculture, aquaculture, permaculture, and agroforestry that will be available soon.

Working towards the end is what makes this farmer successful in achieving his goals. In four years, he was able to develop the farm, conduct training for the IPs, and now off to open a farm school.

From being a lawyer to working in the field, Valencia chose farming, when asked why, he answered that agriculture is a big factor that can bring our economy to its right place. Considering that 57 is the average age of a Filipino farmer, he added, “I am turning 52 and if I can lower down to my age and ask the other people to join the crusade, then we’re going to make a dent.” Through Tibby’s farm, it’s his one way to show the youth how agriculture can be sexy.

Valencia says to the youth, “In time, most of the jobs that we’re doing will not be relevant anymore. The technology, the computer, and other devices will get wiser and wiser, but these will not be able to provide us food the same process that our farmers do; it cannot plant and grow crops the natural way, it will always need a guide and support by the humans.” He hopes for the youth to look at agriculture as something that is rising and as he calls it, a ‘sunrise industry’.
This piece discusses how tobacco plants may be used to produce vaccines in the Philippines.
Philippines tobacco industry may also produce our first COVID-19 vaccine

TOBACCO has had a bad rap but as things work out during this pandemic, it may just be a lifesaver in the fight against COVID-19.
They may be the easiest and safest way to mass-produce the vaccines we are now pining for.
You say, No way, but scientists say, it’s OK. Welcome to the world of pharming.
In case you didn’t know, vaccines are typically produced using mammal, bacteria and yeast cell cultures in bioreactors.
But now, it has been shown that plants can act as bioreactors. Because of biotechnology, it has become possible to modify plants to grow important compounds like vaccines. This is known as pharming.
For decades, vaccine makers used eggs with the modified genetic material from a virus inserted into the egg’s proteins. But this procedure means each egg must be modified individually and, in cases like the COVID-19 outbreak where time is crucial, it would often be too late.
In pharming, plants are used to produce vaccines. Some biomedical companies like Kentucky Bioprocessing (KBP) and Medicago have partnered with tobacco companies in pursuing plant-based vaccines for COVID-19. They already have had successes with HIV vaccine and ebola. They have also started human trials for their COVID-19 vaccines.
One tobacco company is about to produce three million doses of a possible coronavirus vaccine using tobacco.
And as it turns out, tobacco plants are commonly used in pharming. In fact, Nicotiana tabacum and its relative, Nicotiana benthamiana, are known as the lab mice of pharming.
They are easy to grow and have big leaves necessary for pharming. And they are widely available.
Although the cultivation of tobacco in the Philippines has gone down, it is still a major cash crop, especially in Northern Luzon.
Virginia tobacco, the most dominant type in the country, accounts for 58 percent of the tobacco area, or about 23.35 hectares, mostly in Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Abra, and La Union.
Burley is grown in Ilocos region as well as in Abra, Cagayan Valley, Tarlac, and Occidental Mindoro. The native or dark tobacco is grown almost anywhere in the rest of the country while Turkish or aromatic tobacco is planted in limited areas in Cagayan Valley.
Pharming will give countries like the Philippines with a relatively robust tobacco industry to also compete in the vaccine production industry. Brazil and South Africa are already into pharming. There is no stopping Philippines to be at par with them.

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