APRIL 29, 2011, MACALELON, QUEZON PROVINCE – Melchor Merando’s house made of wood, concrete, and GI sheets needs repairs but he would rather prioritize his children’s education. “What’s more important than taking care of our children’s future first before anything else?” he asked.
Indeed, by this measure alone, Mr. Merando, a 52-year-old farmer, father of five and member of the Candangal, San Isidro and San Nicolas Agrarian Reform Community (CASANDRO ARC) in Macalelon, already looks like a great success.
His eldest daughter, who had finished business management at a university, now works as a supervisor at a local branch of Nestlé Philippines, a food and beverage multinational company. His second child is a third-year civil engineering student and the two boys that came after him are incoming college freshmen in June. The youngest child is in high school. Mr. Merando, who has never gone to high school because of poverty, wants to ensure that his children get good education.
“It’s all about hard work and ingenuity,” he said, stressing that by growing high value vegetables like watermelon, tomatoes, bitter gourd, and eggplant using the best seeds and modern farming methods, he is able to send all of his children to school. And it helped, he said, to be a member of a multipurpose cooperative in CASANDRO ARC for he is able to purchase farm inputs through the cooperative’s agricultural credit assistance.
When asked about his annual income, he said that what he earned “is sufficient enough for him to finance the education of all his five children.” Probably more: he has a mechanical thresher for rice that provides him additional income, an electric grass cutter, and electric pump to irrigate his vegetables. He also has refrigerator, a television set, and electric fans which are uncommon luxuries in farming families in the Philippines.
Agrarian Reform Beneficiary
A beneficiary of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), Mr. Merando obtained titles to his two-hectare land in the early 1980s. But life then was never easy because only three-fourths of his one-hectare farm is flat enough for growing rice during rainy season, the yield of which was never enough beyond family subsistence.
According to Mr. Merando, his family’s condition only started to improve beginning 2007 when he joined the farmers’ field school organized by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the second phase of the Agrarian Reform Communities Development Project (ARCDP2) supported by the World Bank.
“We learned a lot about the better ways to plant off-season vegetables after the rice planting season, the proper use of inputs, to diversify, to raise animals the right way, and a whole lot more.” Mr. Merando said. “That enabled us to earn incomes all year round.”
Supported by the World Bank, ARCDP2 was designed to reduce rural poverty and enhance the quality of life of agrarian reform beneficiaries and their communities by improving their productive assets, rural infrastructure and access to key support services.
Road and Bridge to Prosperity
For most farmers in the area, however, what really opened up opportunities for their economic advancement was the completion of Candangal-San Isidro all-weather road with a 52-linear meter concrete bridge in 2006 that connected the ARC barangays to the market and to the national highway.
“Now, we could easily bring our produce to the market,” said Emilia Marbella, 46, a farmer and also a member of the CASANDRO ARC. “We used to hike for nearly an hour through rough and muddy trails then cross the river using either the dilapidated hanging bridge or makeshift rafts to reach the national highway. Bringing palay, copra, and vegetable to the market then were both difficult and costly.”
The benefits were immediate, Ms. Marbella said. With ease in transport, time-travel to market centers shortened from 45 minutes to 15 minutes, hauling cost per sack of farm products decreased from Php 40 to Php 15, and transportation cost decreased by 40 percent. In addition, the construction of the road enabled the local power provider to bring electricity to inner villages. Small business enterprises like consumer stores started sprouting like mushrooms along the road.
Now, we could easily bring our produce to the market.
Farmers’ incomes are expected to improve even more with the initial operation of the newly-constructed San Isidro-Candangal Community Irrigation Project in time for the first cropping season in May this year. Also constructed under ARCDP2, this irrigation system will provide water for more than 300 hectares of rice lands which will enable at least 140 farmers to grow rice two times to three times a year.
But even at this stage, recent estimates by the DAR show that, in real terms, average household income in the ARC rose from Php 81,641 in 2003 to Php 275,950 in 2010 - a 238 percent increase. More farmers in the ARC like Ms. Marbella were encouraged to plant high value crops like bell pepper, bitter gourd, lettuce, and tomatoes upon realizing that it’s now cheaper to transport their farm products to buyers in the town center.
Ms. Marbella now earns at least Php 250,000 a year from growing off-season vegetables in her 1,500 square meter plot in addition to her income from livestock raising and rice farming in one-hectare land. And just like Mr. Merando, Ms. Marbella can now afford to send her children to college. “We used to have practically nothing, but, now, I no longer consider myself poor,” she said.