It was potato harvest day for the Miarayon Highland Farmers Association and the Bukidnon skies were looking bleak. Though a heavy downpour seemed imminent, the farmers’ spirits were far from being dampened as they filled their crates with potatoes planted in April earlier this year.
After all, this harvest is different from previous cycles. It’s the first one since their involvement in Universal Robina Corporation (URC)’s Sustainable Potato Program, an initiative that complements the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA). Under the program, URC will provide free table potato seeds of the granola variety imported from Prince Edward Island in Canada.
A groundbreaking strategic partnership between DA and the private sector, the program will provide the farmers access to quality seeds, training, research and development to help increase their productivity and yield. The program also aligns with the conglomerate-wide transformation of JG Summit Holdings, Inc. to put sustainability at the core of its business.
The Miarayon farmers were able to harvest around 250,000 metric tons (MT) of table potatoes from more than 5,000 seeds per hectare. If they can sell their produce for the farm gate price of P45 per kilo, a farmer can earn up to P2.2 million per hectare in three months.
“The support we received from DA and URC gave us access to quality planting materials that we can’t get on our own. This program was really helpful to us,” said Miarayon Highland Farmers Association president Ryan Danio in his native Visayan language.
Danio added that the seeds they previously used produced less potatoes that spoil easily. “Some seed varieties are available to us but since they generate less yield, they cannot provide for our needs. That’s the big difference,” he said.
Broad Geographic Scope
Aside from the farmers of Miarayon, seven other cooperatives from Bukidnon, Benguet, Mountain Province, and Davao were able to receive potato seeds under the program.
In the Cordillera region, farmers reported harvesting an average of 20 metric tons. This could earn them up to P600,000 if they could sell their produce up to P30 per kilo. “Before, the production cost versus our income would only break even,” Seeds and Fruits Multi-purpose Cooperative general manager Ardan Copas shared. “Since we have new seeds that increased the volume and quality of our yield, the farmers were able to make profits this time.”
In Sitio Balutakay and Brgy. Alegre, Bansalan, Davao Del Sur, farmers reported harvesting up to 600 kilograms of potato tubers. While farmers in this region usually harvested half a kilo per plant, this time they were able to harvest up to 2.5 kilograms per plant.
Inclusive, Robust Agriculture
“We are privileged to work with the DA in achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development specifically in the acceleration of the local potato farming communities’ full economic, social, and environmental benefit,” said URC president and CEO Irwin C. Lee.
The potato industry is key to a stronger overall agriculture sector. In 2017, the country’s demand for table potatoes reached 380,333 MT. That same year, the country produced only 116,783 MT, a staggering 69 percent short of the country’s potato demand.
According to Joan D. Bacbac, the Cordillera region’s HVCDP Regional Focal Person, URC’s program helps the government provide quality seeds, which tend to be short or inaccessible for farmers.
“The government provides seeds but these are not enough so we have to support these by importing seeds. Hopefully, farmers will be able to produce their own seeds with the help of this program,” she said. To implement the program, the proponents identified the farmers associations who will be the target beneficiaries.
DA Region XI HVCDP coordinator Melani Provido added that programs such as this multi-sectoral potato program are key to boosting agriculture in Mindanao. According to a World Bank report, a strong agricultural sector in Mindanao is key to reducing poverty nationwide.
“Programs such as this tap Mindanao’s potential for agricultural development. By incorporating a science-based and market-oriented approach in agriculture development programs, we can sustain and improve the livelihood of farmers nationwide,” said Provido.
Since one of the program’s long-term objectives is to help farmers produce their own seeds, the DA will continuously provide training to farmers so they become more self-reliant in producing a steady supply of seeds in the long run.
“We’re eventually teaching the farmers how to create their own seed bank, and make the seeds available to other farmers who want to buy seeds,” said Audy Maagad, DA Region X Field Operations Division officer in charge.
Leaders of farmer associations are also ensuring that their fellow growers know how to take care of the seeds. “We’ll see to it that they know what to do and how to take good care of the seeds. We don’t want to waste the chance given by the government to the people in Barangay Kapatagan,” Davao-based Highland Farmers Service Cooperative president Felipe Rosemas said.