Reaping the gains of mechanized farming

Photo by JVDeGuzman/DA-RAFIS 6
Seeing the need to capacitate the small and marginal farmers to have better access to the different projects of the government so they could counter the drawbacks present in the sector, the 22 barangay associations in Mina, Iloilo was federated on May 10, 2013. The Mina Municipal Federation of Farmers Association (MMFFA) composed of more than 1,700 members pursues actions to safeguard farmers from the different sectoral issues and paves them towards limitless opportunities despite its scarce resources.
Through the help of the Municipal Agriculture Office, the MMFFA has linked farmers to various programs and services of the Department of Agriculture (DA) which help them eased the problems of the increasing prices of farm inputs, high labor costs, weather disturbances, and postharvest losses leading to their low income and productivity.
Registered with the Department of Labor in Employment in September 2013, the MMFFA had ever since been quick in conveying the DA programs and advocacies directly to the farmers through regular monthly meetings with the FA presidents and farmers, farmers field schools, constant farm visits and field monitoring, and attendance to DA workshops and conferences. Keeping the farmers abreast of the inputs, technologies, and other interventions they could access from the agency, the MMFFA was instrumental in the farmers’ leveled up production performance.
From the 989 pieces of laminated sacks and 17 collapsible dryers they had initially received from the DA, MMFFA started receiving mechanization support from the agency in 2013.
“We will not be able to acquire farm tractors by ourselves if not for the DA mechanization program and the Iloilo Provincial Government’s provision of 15 percent equity. We are grateful that in that year, five barangays in Mina were granted with one hand tractor and one rice thresher each,” said MMFFA founding and current president Helen S. Bolivar.
Eventually, the MMFFA became one of the two pilot beneficiaries of the Farm Service Provider (FSP) program of the agency which served as their springboard to advance rice mechanization in a fifth-class municipality in Iloilo and to effects transformation in the mindset of the conventional farmers.
To ensure the sustainability and positive impact of the project to the community, DA trained the MMFFA members and operators on the proper utilization, maintenance, and troubleshooting of the machines as well as farm recording and bookkeeping before the turn over of one unit of four-wheel drive tractor and one rice combine harvester amounting to ₱3.2 million in January 2015.
“Others perceived that the FSP program of DA may displace farm laborers. But with the right planning and supervision by the agency, we were able to prove that the use of modern farm tractors are advantageous to farmers and will serve as an income-generating project for the federation,” Helen adds.
They set-off the operation of the rice combine harvester in March 2015 which was in time for the dry season harvesting. Out of the income they collected from the initial operation of the tractors, the MMFFA was able to provide a counterpart for another unit of a rice combine harvester from DA.
The receptiveness of the Mina farmers to the DA farm mechanization program fostered the association to invest more in modernized tractors that are seen to counter the dwindling number of farm laborers, and to reduce the farmers’ production and harvesting expenses.
“By July 2015, we were able to procure another unit of combine harvester worth ₱1.8 million and a four-wheel-drive tractor worth ₱1.2 million from the income we generated from the tractor operation. We are not profit-oriented, instead we make sure to provide proper service to our clientele. Maybe, that is the reason why we were blessed with government support, ” Helen cites.
Employing their best management practices as an FSP beneficiary, the MMFFA derived adequate funds to procure additional tractors and service vehicles so they could accommodate their increasing number of clients not only in Mina but also in nearby municipalities. It had further ignited the trust and confidence of their stakeholders and partners on them as a model implementer of the FSP program in the region.
The MMFFA was able to buy the following in spot cash:
* Second-hand pick-up service
* Elf truck
* Two units of Four-wheel drive tractor
* Two units of rice combine harvester
* Five hand tractors
* One floating tiller
* One granule applicator
With their impressive track record as a farm service provider for five years now, MMFFA received additional farm machinery and equipment from the agency which led them to efficiently serve up to 1,413 hectares of irrigated rice areas and 748.91 hectares of rainfed farms out of 1,843 hectares rice areas in the municipality.
They were granted with another two mobile dryers, one double pass rice mill, riding-type transplanter, four units of mechanical sower and weeder under the DA Rice Program, and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund mechanization component of the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization.
MMFFA speeds up the land preparation and harvesting procedures of farmers in Mina and other adjacent areas. Farmer-clients saved on their labor expenses and lessened their postharvest losses, thus, increasing their take-home earnings.
“Since our clients are growing in numbers, we reduced our service fee for the rice combine harvester from ₱10,000 for non-members and ₱8,000 fee for members per hectare to ₱7,000 per hectare whether they are members or not. For the four-wheel-drive tractor service rate, we also lowered it from ₱5,000 per hectare to only ₱3,500,” Helen cited.
The association also offers a package deal for complete land preparation using a four-wheel drive and hand tractor at a rate of ₱6,500 a hectare.
The farmer-friendly payment options of the group’s FSP program has attracted more clients to avail of their services.
“To give farmers the leeway, they could pay their service fee whether in cash or in the form of palay upon harvest. If their production is significantly low, we adjust our payment rates for ₱100 per sack,” Helen explains.
All the tractors and other properties that the association has acquired through the years were bought in full cash payment, proof that MMFFA is financially gaining. With more than ₱20-million fixed assets, this eight-year-old federation has no single loan liability, and this is another manifestation that the DA projects are indeed enabling communities to grow and to economically advance.
“Technically, we started without funds since we did not require membership fees from our farmers. Every time we conduct meetings, we just brought food from our farms to share. We are thankful to the DA for the countless support they extended to our association.”
As they continue to champion mechanized rice farming in Mina, the MMFFA enhances the quality of services they are rendering, and ensures that the government aids will yield better outcomes to the lives of small and marginal farmers.
The MMFFA officials oversee the land preparation to harvesting activities and provide technical assistance to the farmers to warrant better yield performance and adoption of cost-reducing technologies in rice farming. “We also act as technicians to our farmer-members. With the support of the LGU, we were able to facilitate the accreditation of the 22 barangays in Mina with the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund program.”
“Our goal is to empower our farmers. We tapped our farmers’ associations presidents as enumerators for the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture and they also serve as purveyors of DA weather advisories to their farmer-constituents,” Helen adds.
The MMFFA also provides insurances and other benefits to their equipment operators and laborers, and per diems to FA presidents for their participation in meetings and other activities. The barangays also obtain a percentage share in the income from the rice combine harvester operation in their areas. Currently, they are supporting three youth operators in their studies. “To pay forward the gains we reaped in our undertakings as FSP beneficiary, we will continue to provide scholarship offers to our farm laborers who want to pursue their education.”
“We uphold transparency in all our transactions and we do not take steps without consulting our farmers for their approval,” she went on.
The association is also planning to acquire additional tractors and to construct support facilities such as warehouses, storage building, rice processing center, and a repair shop with the help of DA to better respond to the growing needs of the farming stakeholders in the locality.
Attributing their success as one of the thriving associations in the region to the innumerable interventions they received from the DA, provincial and local government, the MMFFA affirms its thrust to constantly evolve and help in disseminating the key programs and advocacies of the agency to maintain rice self-sufficiency in the province.
Story by: Sheila Mae H. Toreno/DA RAFIS 6
Photo Credit: JVDeGuzman/DA-RAFIS 6

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