Map Insights

First of Two Parts

Farming is both a challenging and rewarding endeavor. It involves many factors — land, labor, financing, inputs (planting materials, fertilizers, pesticides), farm machinery and equipment, utilities (water, power), handling, packaging, logistics, market, knowledge of supply and demand in relation to the market, the peace and order situation, the weather, and now, even the pandemic. As a result, success can never be predicted.

But despite that, farming remains an attractive investment option. Many have gone into it — some succeeded, some failed. There are lessons to be learned from those who have tried, regardless of success or failure.

This article provides insights from selected individuals who have ventured into farming (agripreneurs) under varying investments, experiences, farm sizes, technologies, and time devoted to farming.

What makes the stories interesting is that they come from actual experiences of the agricultural experts themselves who have, so to speak, walked their talk. Almost all are members of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, Inc. (CAMP), a SEC-registered non-stock and non-profit non-government organization with volunteer members “driven by a patriotic call to contribute their time, expertise and/or resources to champion agriculture modernization in the country.”

Leo Gonzales is experimenting on the integration of a one-hectare vegetable production with his existing banana and papaya agribusiness ventures on his 6.5 ha farm in Calauan, Laguna. He is not a CAMP member but supports their advocacies.

Leo is having a lot of difficulties and, after two months, was able to develop only one third of his area.

There are several issues. Labor is so inefficient, scarce, and expensive. With the heat, labor can only work effectively at five hours a day. Small machines are needed for land preparation and inter-tillage cultivation but there are no service providers. If there are any, they are the large four-wheel tractors that cost P5,000 per hectare per passing. With a need for at least two passing before the land is ready for planting with vegetables, the cost is expensive. Add to that the costs of planting materials (seedlings), fertilizer, plastic mulching materials, etc.

Timing of sequential planting is also a challenge which should be synchronized with market demand. Such is difficult to do, especially if one relies on the wet market as an outlet. Fortunately, he has a captive market due to the enhanced community quarantine. People are forced-to-good to buy his fresh produce because they cannot go out to the market.

Pons Batugal recommends planting perennial crops (such as fruits), especially for retirees. He says they can be planted once and visited one to two times a year to check. The third visit would be at harvest time.

Tropical fruits are very profitable given the best varieties and the right strategies. For example, he makes rambutan flower in February and sells the fruit in April for P75/kg. Laguna and Mindanao rambutans flower in June-July and are sold at P25/kg in September. Other perennials which produce high-value products will do as well.

The biggest costs are weeding and fertilizers. But if the crops are grown organically, the two expensive operations would be practically nil.

Mr. Batugal also leads the Farmers Community Development Foundation International. All the farms under the Foundation and his farms are profitable. Their secret — they strategize and use doable, affordable, and sustainable science-based technologies. They always start small and then scale up. The most critical is to initiate action and to do it well.

Pablito Villegas was making about 15% to 20% returns per harvest season on coconut since 2003, that is, if there were no typhoons or droughts and pests, like cocolisap and other diseases. He was concerned though that his farm hands continued to live in poverty. So, he shifted to welfare farming wherein he gave his farm hands free use of a portion of his land with all its produce and harvest. He just gets his harvest from coconuts and other long-term crops, like banana, dragon fruit, guyabano, pomelo, mango, cacao and coffee.

His farmhands also receive an additional harvest share of 10% to 15% of sales while paying them maintenance labor wages of P250-P300 per day for contract labor (pakyaw basis), plus free coconuts and bananas and fruits for their home consumption.

Further, through the cooperative which he formed, he also gave the four farmhand families free homes, a motorcycle, two hauling vehicles and a tricycle under their direct maintenance.

In turn, the coop uses them as builders or labor contractors in transforming the organic farms into an eco-tourism farm. The farmhands are now agripreneurs-builders and labor contractors and no longer farm laborers. They have better lives, enjoy good health and are able to send their children to school.

Another expert, Dr. Emil Javier, has a farm in Calauan and Bay, Laguna. He has had experience in raising an extensive array of agricultural products: livestock, fish, and crops — grains, fruits and vegetables.

He made money in almost all of his ventures, except in melons. To his surprise, pechay was the most profitable.

Theft was a recurring problem in the place. But the market is the most problematic area. To bring his vegetables to San Pablo, he has to hire two tricycles at a cost of P1/kg of vegetable (or about P300 per tricycle per trip). The price differential between farm gate and San Pablo was P4-P14/kg, depending on the product and time of the year. He also took the risk of planting off-season.

To be continued.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.

Rolando T. Dy is the Co-Vice Chair of the MAP AgriBusiness Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific.