The Department of Agriculture is pushing forward the concept of farm clustering and consolidation as a vital tool in leveling up agricultural productivity in the country.

Rising up to the challenge of consolidating farms to optimize the available interventions and assistance to farmers, the Department of Agriculture in Ilocos Region has successfully convened three (3) farmer associations from Brgys. Sta Maria, Sta. Fe and San Jose in Agoo, La Union involving 185 farmer-individuals, to form a cluster and consolidate their farms for the 100 hectare Community Hybrid Rice Farming Project to be implemented by DA-RFO I.

The 100 hectare contiguous area will cover two cropping seasons, both in wet and dry including irrigated areas and will not only focus on hybrid rice production but with emphasis on value chain approach providing the farmer-cooperators with interventions from production to marketing up to processing, making rice production a viable business for them.

The concept and success of clustering was first experienced by a farmers’ association in Agoo, La Union in 2018 when DA implemented its hybrid rice derby project in a 10-hectare contiguous area involving the Sta. Maria Farmers’ Association. In partnership with private seed companies, the project provided the cooperating farmers free inputs like seeds and fertilizers. Using 12 hybrid rice varieties, the project successfully showcased to farmers the high potential of hybrid rice seeds in increasing their yield as well as income.

“Nagsimula ang lahat nang sumulat ako kay Governor Francis Emmanuel Ortega upang ipaalam na kami ng aming grupo ay interesado na magkaroon ng mga proyektong pansaka upang matulungan kaming mga maliliit na magsasaka,” (It all started when I wrote a request letter to Gov. Ortega expressing our interest to avail projects in agriculture that will help small farmers like us.) Ms. Maritess Mamuyac, Sta. Maria Farmer’ Association president as she recalled how they reaped bountiful blessing in the past when their farms were consolidated to introduce hybrid rice production in their area.

“Laking pasasalamat namin dahil agarang tumugon ang opisina ng agrikultura at agad-agad nag conduct sila ng pa-briefing sa amin na dito gagawin ang hybrid rice derby at ang kailangan ay pag-isahin ang aming mga sakahan.” (We’re very grateful that the agriculture office immediately responded to our request and conducted briefing about hybrid rice derby in our Municipality and that we need to form a cluster for the said project.), Mamuyac added.

Seeing the high potential of hybrid rice seeds to increase their yield as well as income through the said project, a lot of farmers then were encouraged to plant hybrid rice seeds in the area.

Mr. Armando Quezada, a member of the Sta. Maria Farmers Association and the Barangay Kagawad of Sta. Maria also gratefully recalled that by participating in the said project he was able to increase his yield by 25% as compared when he was still using inbred rice seeds.

Replicating the success of the 10-hectare Hybrid Rice Derby project, members of the Sta. Maria Farmers Association are now excited for greater chance at improving their lives with the introduction of the Community Hybrid Rice Farming project.

As part of the preparatory activities, the group have undergone a community organizing, briefing and extension activities facilitated by the Rice Banner Program as well as the R&D Group of DA-RFO I in coordination with the Local Government Unit of Agoo. During the briefing, needs and expectations were identified to ensure efficient implementation of the project.

Preparing the farmers for the full implementation of the clustering project next year, the DA plans to federate the three associations involved in the 100-hectare hybrid rice production project into one organized farmers group that would be provided with priority interventions and technical assistance in terms of production, processing and trading of rice.

It is easier and more cost-efficient and effective for the DA to deal with organized farmers through their FCAs than individual farmers where technical assistance and other interventions like inputs and agri infra, machinery and equipment will be provided by DA.

Other than the community organizing, the group would also be trained on business plan making, financial planning and record keeping to enhance their capability in transforming their association into an agri-business cooperative where part of their vision is to be able to own and manage a Rice Processing Center in the future.

DA has also included the IFED or the Innovative Family Enterprise Development Project as among the vital activity of the associations where the farmer-cooperators will be given goats to raise and vegetable seeds for diversification while waiting for their rice crop harvest season.

Three to four years from now, with all the interventions DA will provide under the Community Hybrid Rice farming Project, the group of farmers of Sta. Maria, Santa Fe and San Jose would certainly be great contributors in vitally sustaining and developing the agriculture industry in Ilocos Region.