A Pecuaria Experience in the Philippines

by Soc Banzuela, PAKISAMA

Quezon City, Philippines — Most Congresspeople who like to kill the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and are pushing for its non extension have been saying that agrarian reform failed.

20 PAKISAMA Executive Committee members and top management staff, together with 15 leaders of the PAKISAMA-Bicol member organizations, and two staff of Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) undertook a 2-day study tour to the Pecuaria Development Cooperative, Inc (PDCI), in Bula, Camarines Sur.

They were further convinced. Agrarian reform has to be fully and completely implemented in the country if we really want to develop as a country.

They were so convinced that they committed to help build at least one successful agrarian reform community like the PDCI in all provinces of the country.

They were so convinced that they committed to reach out and assist many of the 600,000 farmer-members of existing 5,500 ARC organizations/cooperatives in 8,000 barangays in 79 provinces across the country, achieve their economic and political potentials.

The two-day tour gave the participants the opportunity to understand better the key ingredients in a successful agrarian reform community in the country. After a series of talks given by PDCI leaders, a visit to their bio-organic processing facility and rice mill and after buying the cooperative’s mascuvado and red healthy rice and after living for a night and a half-day to farmer-hosts, the participants gathered to synthesize their findings.

The participants found the three important secrets or success factors of PDCI, a multi-awarded Agrarian Reform Community (ARC) in the Philippines with its Healthy organic red and brown rice being sold in more than 500 outlets, including all 7-11 convenience stores and almost all the malls around the country including SM, Robinsons, and Glorietta.

First, the importance of committed and competent leadership and management staff: with clear vision, mission, and goals implementing the organization‘s development strategies systematically and with political will and by personal example.

This lesson is hard earned. PDCI‘s first cooperative manager, Dante, gave up his life for the cooperative. By standing firm and following strictly the processes in acquiring the 800-hectare agricultural land offered voluntarily by the landowner under the comprehensive agrarian reform law, PDCI’s first manager and founding leader, Dante, was treacherously murdered by a group of illegal invading farmers. His death inspired the members to push and installed themselves in the contested land, until they got the Certificate of Landownership Award in 1994, after five years of hard struggle not only with competing farmers but also with the government bureaucracy. The current manager, Miller, a farmer-leader himself, led the first group of farmer entrants in the early 90’s to build their houses inside the acquired property despite the non-existence of farm to market road, and essential services such as water and electricity.

Together with his brother and a hundred other rice farmers they experimented for over a decade on the best organic rice seeds they could plant in their respective farms. From leading the community to increase rice production using the sustainable agriculture technology, they went on to build their bio-organic fertilizer processing plant, a rice-mill, and later on, to capture larger market for their products. With organic fertilizer processed in the community and with no chemical pesticide, their red and brown rice became very competitive and even priced very high and are now best-sellers in the country.

Fifteen of the members are now in the business of growing thousands of chickens for a corporation. They are also offered assured markets for all the organic vegetables they can produce.

The cooperative employs 28 full-time paid staff all farmer-members, operating the rice mill, the fertilizer plant, flat-bed dryer, their trucks, and running the day-to-day concerns in the office.

Every year the cooperative renews itself in a General Assembly by electing its Board members and approving the cooperative’s plan and budget for the succeeding year. Reciting every now and then the vision statement they formulated in their founding year, reminds the leaders of the kind of future they wanted to build. Learning from some failed projects and experiments such as getting a government loan for a high-priced Australian cows and a professional manager unsustainably paid very high, they finally succeeded to turn their books from negative to positive.

Over the past two years they earned more than two million pesos net income.

Second, the importance of business base: land, capital, winning product, technology, and enough production and marketing machineries. From the very start, they already envisioned themselves to be running businesses that is why they immediately formed their association into a cooperative. Registered both in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), they came up with an estate development plan, formulated with maximum participation from members. They subdivided themselves into five housing units with each member having 600 sqm homelot and 1.7 hectares of farmland. More than a hundred hectares were planted to rice while more than 500 hectares to sugarcane. Members grew their own vegetables and livestocks. The cooperative negotiated with financial institutions and took care of acquiring capital to provide production loans to members, providing extension technology especially on organic rice farming, and developing and selling their rice products to the market and negotiating with the sugar central, the processing of their sugarcanes.

The cooperative, thus, ensures scale economics to take place. Production, processing, and marketing activities based on family-sized farms operated by owner cultivators are aggregated by the cooperative. They studied and learned the value of focusing on a winning product. They produced, processed, and marketed Healthy Rice, packaged most competitively with any existing Multi-national Corporation product, earning almost half of the market share of all existing organic rice sold in the Philippine market today. Understanding the importance of scale, the cooperative has been expanding to accept as associate members rice farmers outside of their community. From a hundred hectares planted to organic rice, the cooperative has now more than two hundred, making it one of the largest producers of organic rice  in the country.. They also continued to expand their market to include not only the 500 Metro Manila malls and outlets but also the local or regional-Bicol market. With highly-priced product and with a low-production cost, it can be said perhaps that the PDCI rice farmers maybe the most competitive rice farmers in the country today, generating bigger income compared to most rice farmers in the country.

Third and last secret shared by PDCI is the importance of partnership with various networks: PO, NGO, Government, academe, media, churches at the provincial, national, and even international levels. PDCI is a leading member of MAGSACA-CA, a provincial federation of agrarian reform communities and of PAKISAMA, a national confederation of peasant organizations, who in turn is a member of Asian Farmers Association (AFA). These federations helped PDCI members get access to government officials and resources both at the local and national levels, accompanied them especially during their crucial struggle to acquire the highly-contested landholding, helped train their leaders and members on sustainable rice agriculture and policy advocacy and very recently started to venture on helping PDCI become a center of agritourism in the Bicol region if not in the country.

The PhilDHRRA network, a national network of 65 development NGOs, initiated the Tripartite Partnership for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (TriPARRD) Program in 1989, deployed a highly competent and committed community organizer, Lany Rebagay, now a program officer of AsiaDHHRA, an Asian NGO network, who catalyzed the formation of what became perhaps the strongest and most viable people’s organizations in Bicol if not of the country. The TriPARRD program catalyzed other assistance including technical, funding, networking and advocacy to ensure PDCI takes off as an ARC prototype. The Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) also a network of national NGOs sustained the work of the TriPARRD program and assisted PDCI in its various projects such as the bio-organic fertilizer plant, credit and extension work, and cooperative management. The Upland Marketing Foundation, Inc (UMFI), with its scores of salespersons or account executives, takes care of marketing the Healthy Rice and Muscuvado sugar of PDCI and is the key institution that ensured the Healthy Rice penetration of malls and convenience stores in Metro Manila. TRIAS, a Belgian NGO, is now focusing assistance to PDCI to enlarge its capacity to serve its members and develop projects for local economic development.

There are written articles on PDCI coming from technical experts from UPLos Banos who documented PDCI formation during the early years of the TriPARRD program (1989-93), and deployed a doctor agronomist to assist PDCI in its sustainable agriculture and reforestation projects. Much can be learn from these documents.

The Church of Camarines Sur through its Social Action Center (CASAFI), being a member of the TriPARRD Camarines Sur, helped to end the escalation of conflict by providing food to facilitate the transfer of the group of invading farmers to a nearby 100-hectare area allocated by DAR to them.

The government agencies especially the Department of Agrarian Reform, helped facilitate the distribution of the land to the farmers, deployed the Armed Forces of the Philippines to avert violent conflicts between the CARP beneficiaries and invading farmers, assisted PDCI got loans for cow raising, establishing the rice mill, and paving the farm to market roads. Very recently DAR Support Service Office is assisting PDCI to come up with a health program for its members. The Department of Agriculture also assisted them in rehabilitating their irrigation canals and in supplying them with a flat-bed dryer..

The secrets revealed that ARC building is not piece of cake nor a walk in the park. The three secrets are quite demanding but certainly can be done. In fact, to many of us these are not secrets. The key ingredients such as competent and committed leadership and management; successful cooperativised production, processing, and marketing businesses, and multi-stakeholder partnership are not new. Many of us know these already. But it is different when you see them realized.

PDCI has emerged to be a success story. As they received, so they gave. When the 55 Sumilao farmers reached Camarines Sur in their 1,700 kilometer walk in the last quarter of 2007, The PDCI became the willing host to their fatigued body and spirit. Food, shelter, story telling, and videoke singing were offered by PDCI to build the marchers’ spirit as they prepared to walk and enter Naga City the next day. The PDCI leadership and members, together with PAKISAMA Bicol leaders, accompanied the Sumilao farmers until they reached and cross the Southern Tagalog region.

Scores of Bishops, in the run up to the 2nd National Rural Congress early this year, heard of the PDCI story told no less by its farmer-manager. Later, 73 Bishops  signed up in the advocacy for CARP extension with reforms.

Rene Penas, the acknowledged leader of the Sumilao farmers, also the Chair of PALAMBU (the Bukidnon Federation of agrarian reform communities) and PAKISAMA Executive Members and management staff went to PDCI to thank personally the PDCI members for their hospitality during their campaign. Now that the Sumilao farmers got their own land and many other communities need to be assisted, they also wanted to appreciate and learn their secrets at building a successful agrarian reform community. They were not disappointed. They found the three important secrets and, they got so inspired.

PAKISAMA, with more vigor, will campaign nationwide for the 5,500 ARC organizations and cooperatives and all their allies in the NGO, PO, media, churches, and government to mobilize and rise to the occasion. CARP has to be extended and reformed!

PAKISAMA invites everyone, especially the Congresspeople and staff who continue to attack agrarian reform, to also do a study tour in PDCI.

Sponsored by Asian Farmers Association (AFA) and AGRITERRA, PAKISAMA leaders and staff in a Study Tour to Pecuaria Development Cooperative, Inc. (PDCI), a multi-awardee agrarian reform community in Bula, Camarines Sur, July 18-19, 2008.

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