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by Sheila Mae H. Toreno

The Mina Municipal Federation of Farmers Association (MMFFA) formed on May 6, 2010, seeks to shift the traditional farmers into a highly mechanized rice farming community, driven to optimize every government aid to counter the drawbacks present in the sector.

They sought support from the Department of Agriculture (DA) to ease their burdens caused by the spiking prices of inputs, high labor costs, changing climate, and postharvest losses leading to low income of farmers.

Registered with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on September 10, 2013, the MMFFA covers all 22 barangay associations in Mina with 989 initial farmer-members whose average landholdings are only less than a hectare. The association pursues its objectives to safeguard farmers from the different sectoral issues and paves them towards limitless opportunities despite its scarce funding and resources needed to prosper.

‚ÄúWe wanted that every farmer in our municipality, particularly those who struggle to buy even a few kilograms of palay seeds to sow, can avail of the different projects and services of the DA,‚ÄĚ says Helen S. Bolivar, MMFFA founding and current president.

With the support of the Mina Municipal Agriculture Office, MMFFA had ever since been quick in conveying the DA programs and services directly to the farmers through the conduct of regular meetings with farmers associations presidents, farmers field schools, and frequent farm visits and monitoring, and participation to DA workshops and conferences.

The majority of the farmers in Mina were able to access various interventions from the agency, ranging from certified and hybrid seeds to fertilizer, machinery, extension services, and market linkages.

From the 987 pieces of laminated sacks and 17 collapsible dryers they had initially received from the DA, the MMFFA eventually became one of two pioneer beneficiaries of the Farm Service Provider (FSP) Program in 2013, a springboard to advance rice mechanization in a fifth class municipality in Iloilo.

‚ÄúWe will not be able to acquire farm tractors by ourselves if not for the DA‚Äôs Farm Service Provider program and the Iloilo Provincial Government‚Äôs provision of 10 percent equity. In January 2015, we received one unit of four-wheel drive tractor and a rice combine harvester from DA in which up to now are still servicing several hectares of rice areas in our locality,‚ÄĚ she shares.

Preceding the turnover of the P3.2 million worth of farm machinery, the MMFFA members and operators were trained on proper utilization, maintenance, and troubleshooting of machines as well as farm recording and bookkeeping in 2014 to ensure the sustainability of the project.

They set-off the operation of the rice combine harvester in March 2015, in time for the dry season harvesting. The MMFFA was able to shell out the 10 percent counterpart to avail of another combine harvester from the income they generated from the initial operation of the tractor.

The receptiveness of the Mina farmers to the DA farm mechanization program pushed the association to invest more in modernized tractors that are seen to counter the dwindling number of farm laborers, and to lower the farmers’ production and harvesting expenses.

The revenues they earned as a farm service provider were used to procure additional tractors and service vehicles including:

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, MMFFA received additional farm machinery and equipment from the agency which led them to efficiently serve up to 1,848.75 hectares of irrigated rice areas and 748.91 hectares of rainfed farms. 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 Rice Program and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund mechanization component of the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization.

“We have a relatively lower rate in our servicing. A farmer, whether he is a member or not can avail of P7,500 per hectare service fee of the rice combine harvester, while P4,000 per hectare rate for the land preparation using the four-wheel-drive tractor.”

MMFFA speeds up the land preparation and harvesting activities 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.

Another reason why many farmers are patronizing the FSP program of MMFFA is the leniency in their payment scheme. “We are not for the derived profit, we want to provide convenience to our farmers without them having to spend so much. We also give them options to pay the service fees upon harvest either in cash or in the form of palay,” Helen told.

All the tractors and other properties that the association has acquired were paid off in spot cash, proof that MMFFA is financially gaining. This 10-year-old federation has no single loan liability, and this is another manifestation that the DA projects are indeed enabling communities to grow and economically advance.

“Technically, we started without funds since we did not require membership fees from our farmers. Every time we held meetings, we just brought food from our farms to share. We are thankful to the DA for the countless support extended to our association that drives us to where we are today, ” Helen went on.

The MMFFA continues to champion mechanized rice farming in Mina. The quality of services they are rendering yielded to higher patronage among farmers, thus enabling P20-million accumulated assets from their five-year operation as a DA farm service provider.