Rising from typhoons through a dairy enterprise
MANILA, Philippines – For the agricultural sector, typhoons and other natural disasters have placed them in a never-ending cycle of poverty and uncertainty.
To Romeo Bugarin, a farmer and chairman of Malaya Development Cooperative (MDC) in Mallig, Isabela, they are often put back to zero due to the damage typhoons inflict on their crops.
“Noong una, rice and corn lang kami. Kapag bumagyo ay may kalamidad na sa rice, wala na, kasi bagsak na agad," he recalled. "Lalo na sa corn. Kapag dumapa na, back to zero na naman kami.”
(Before, we only planted rice and corn. When calamities such as typhoons hit rice, we're down immediately. The effect is worse on corn. When it bends, we're back to zero.)
The ordeal of Bugarin and other Isabela farmers is not isolated.
It is a story familiar to 11 million Filipino farmers who bear the same problem after calamities. Crops are submerged in water for days, seeds mixed with mud and clay, and rice plants bent by strong and continuous winds.
On average, 20 typhoons enter the Philippines annually, many of them resulting in loss of properties, life, and livelihood.
In September 2011 alone, Super Typhoon Pedring hit Isabela, affecting 735 farmers and leaving a loss of almost 952.2 metric tons of rice and corn crops valued at around P2 million ($45213)*.
Regaining the losses incurred for one harvesting season is often hard to achieve. After the barrage of typhoons, farmers are left with nothing. (READ: FAO: Typhoon-hit farmers risk 'double tragedy')
Under normal conditions, the option would be getting loans at onerous rates to traders so they can buy seeds, fertilizers and other inputs for the next planting season and make sure that there is food on the table for the family.
This has worsened the dependency on traders, with the increasing damage to crops wrought by climate change. (READ: Empowering farmers against climate change)
With utmost concern on the pressing situation of farmers, development worker Ernesto Lactao, the present General Manager of MDC, worked with a group of women way back in 2003 to form a cooperative that seeks to uplift the lives of farmers by starting to lend money at minimal interest.
While the traders lend money to farmers at 10% interest per month, MDC gives it to farmers at only 1.5%. And while the traders are buying the produce of farmers at P15, MDC buys them at P15-P20 ($.33-$.45) per kilo.
But with climate change in the picture, the impact of more frequent and intense typhoons is magnified and cannot be overcome by microfinance services alone.
“We need to have an alternative income,” Lactao said. "Dito namin nakita na hindi sapat ang microfinance, kailangang maghanap ng ibang option ng pagkakakitaan at ito nga yung dairy."
(We need to have an alternative income. This is where we see that microfinance is not enough, we need to look for other livelihood options such as dairy.)
Through the assistance of the Foundation for a Sustainable Society (FSSI), members of MDC were able to visit the dairy farms of Bulacan, Batangas, Quezon, and Laguna where they saw the potential of the dairy industry to provide daily and sustainable income to the farmers of Mallig.
Thereafter, MDC decided to venture into the integrated dairy enterprise with 3 main products: milk, animal, and organic fertilizer.
It was not smooth sailing at the start. MDC had to work with changing the mindset of farmers whose primary goal is to gain income even through unsustainable practices of hybrid and non-organic planting.
Fortunately, the cooperative was able to help its members realize the value of the environment and social welfare in the pursuit of gaining income. Aside from the initial training and seminars conducted within MDC, the organization worked out to orient all other dairy cooperatives in the province by forming the Isabela Social Enterprise Local Economy Development (Isabela SE-LED) Network.
Dairy multiplier farm
MDC’s dairy enterprise follows the multiplier model: upon procurement of 25 female cows through the assistance of the National Dairy Authority (NDA), MDC’s role is to multiply them and eventually distribute the calves to every member-household.
The dairy industry is seen as a source of daily income for farmers.
Under the program of MDC, each household is to be given 3 cows, each producing 10 liters of fresh milk every day.
With low inputs on corn and napier grass as food, each farming household expects an assured daily income of P660 ($14)* by selling the 30 liters of milk at P22 ($.49) per liter to MDC.
After buying the milk from farmers, MDC processes the milk and produces bottled products like fresh milk and yogurt. Profit from sales is then given back to farmers in the form of dividends.
Presently, the milk products of MDC are patronized by biyaheros who numbered 5,000 in 2014; the rest are also sold to schools in Isabela through dealers.
If dairy activity is practiced with planting crops, much more can be gained by farmers.
Some of MDC’s 600 farmer-members are now benefiting from selling corn leaves to MDC at P1.8 ($.041) per kilo. This can be translated to around P5,000-P7,000 ($113-$158) of added income per hectare of corn.
Other provisions are employment for production, marketing, and distribution of products and services that include production loans, micro finance, rice and palay trading, among others.
Opportunities in expanding
Through the Isabela SE-LED Network meetings and other government-arranged conferences in Isabela, MDC had the chance to meet other existing dairy cooperatives and associations in the province, as well as potential buyers and traders of dairy products.
They were later recognized by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to be the project proponent for DA-World Bank Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP).
Under the program, MDC will receive a total of P16 million ($361,000) for building facilities, procuring refrigerated van, retort machine, and chillers for retail markets envisioned throughout the province.
As one of the farmers initially given a set of cows, Bugarin is grateful for the opportunity extended to farmers like him trapped in debt.
“Malaki ang nabago sa pamumuhay ng farmers. Dati wala kaming alam about dairy. Ang alam lang namin ay mag-gatas," he said. "Pero ngayon ay nakikita namin na may daily income dito at malaking bagay ito sa farmers para makakain sa araw-araw at makapag-paaral ng mga anak.”
(There have been great improvements in the lives of farmers. Before, we were not aware of dairy. What we only knew was how to milk the cows. But now we can see its potential of giving daily income and this is something big for farmers to provide food daily to their family and be able to send their children to school.)
With more intense and frequent typhoons ahead, MDC is assured that through the dairy enterprise and the changing mindset toward sustainable agriculture, farmers will be exposed to lesser economic and natural risks. – Rappler.com
A development writer and photographer, Kathleen is passionate about issues affecting farmers and the vulnerable sectors. She obtained her Bachelor's degree in Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños and works as the Advocacy and Communications Officer of the Foundation for a Sustainable Society (FSSI). You may reach Kathleen at email@example.com. FSSI is a social investment organization dedicated to support social enterprises that are empowering communities achieve economic, social, and environmental objectives. To know more about FSSI and how you can help, visit fssi.com.ph.