IN 1985, I bought a 4.5 hectare farm in Maragusan, Compostela Valley. Neighbors wondered what for because the land was clearly not suited for growing corn.
I planted durian instead. My neighbors followed suit and next wondered why my plants were growing faster than theirs. The reason was expensive chemical fertilizer. Later I shifted to cheaper organic fertilizer that my farm manager learned to make inside the farm.
Not until recently did local DA (Department of Agriculture) personnel start to take notice of my farm. It was too late for my neighbors. Exasperated by the low income from corn farming, they leased their farms to banana corporations that had expanded into our area, leaving my farm as the only one that is not leased to corporate farming.
In 2000 I returned home to Cebu and in 2006 bought a one-hectare farm in Colawin, Argao. My neighbors again were, still are, mostly corn farmers. I tried introducing organic farming by spending for experts to lecture in seminars that I organized for my farmer-neighbors.
Typhoon Yolanda brought my organic farming project to a screeching halt. I found a way recently to revive it but Covid-19 has since put it on hold. What is noteworthy again here is that it is now 14 years since I bought my farm and a DA extension worker has yet to come around and ask me or my neighbors how the DA could help.
But I do not write this to criticize the local DA. I happen to know now that local DA personnel are not capacitated to improve farm productivity because the bulk of the region’s budget goes to FMR’s (Farm to Market Roads), the favorite milking cow of congressmen-commissioners. One has to wonder what FMR’s are for when farmers are not helped to produce much of anything.
Instead I write to suggest that the new focus on agricultural development (Balik Probinsiya?) should not be the usual patronizing provision of a temporary crutch to struggling farmers. If the aim, as it should be, is to improve the quality of life of farmers, public or private money is better spent organizing farmers into multi-purpose cooperatives.
Farmers could finally stand on their own two feet if their cooperatives would now own the responsibility of teaching them techno-based agri-production, leadership, management, and entrepreneurial skills. This way when DA workers leave to work in another area, the cooperative can continue what they started unlike before when everything goes back to square one once they leave.
Small farmers must be empowered to break the chain of dependence on condescending come-and-go experts by becoming, through tightly organized multi-purpose cooperatives, experts and entrepreneurs themselves. Nothing less will improve the quality of their lives.