Monday, February 27, 2017

Tawi-Tawi from Rice Importer to Exporter

Rice being the staple food of the Filipinos has always been a crucial issue not only for the economy but also for politics. It was said that no Filipino leader must touch the issue of rice since it may lead to their downfall.

It is ironic that Philippines being an agricultural country is a net importer of rice. There has never been an instance that the Philippines exported rice with the exception of the year 1977. And not in substantial amounts at that.

Tawi-Tawi Province is at the southernmost tip of the Philippines and is geographically closer to Malaysia than to Manila. 

It is currently relying on imported and even smuggled rice for its sustenance since it is cheaper than locally produced rice which is ironic.

In fact, Tawi-Tawi has less than 200 hectares that is planted to rice and that tells the true story of food supply.

In this regard, Governor Rashidin Matba of Tawi-Tawi has vowed to expand and develop 6,000 hectares of new rice farmlands so as to help the province’s rice industry. This aims to attain self-sufficiency in rice as per the government target of 3 years.

The province has a population of  100,000 and the new farmlands will meet the demand for the staple.  

 “The low price resulted in the province relying mainly on smuggled rice instead of developing its rice industry,”  Department of Agriculture (DA) Secertary Piñol said.

The smuggled rice comes from Vietnam and is then coursed through Malaysia and then finds it way to the markets of the province, Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga. 

“Tawi-Tawi hopes to reverse its fortune, from a net importer of smuggled rice to an exporter of high quality rice to neighboring Malaysia,” Piñol disclosed.

To complement this, the DA will come in with production enhancers such as seeds, fertilizers, and mechanical equipment, as well as storage facilities and a rice-processing center.

New solar powered irrigation systems will also be introduced to keep farm input costs down to make the price of locally produced rice cheaper.

Hazardous Work for Minors Updated by DOLE

Historically, Philippine agriculture is an all hands operation for the family. It is not uncommon that the children of farmers end up as farmers themselves in tilling, planting and harvesting the produce of the land that they farm. 

But the Department of Labor and Employment has updated the list of hazardous work that children are banned into performing. 

According to Department Order No. 149-A proscribes banned child labor from farm related activities as follows.

1. Plant propagation activities (grafting, marcotting, budding and weeding of soil)
2. Clearing of land
3. Plowing
4. Harrowing
5. Irrigating
6. Irrigating
7. Constructing of paddy dikes
8. Cutting
9. Handling, spraying and application of harmful fertilizers
10. Handling of pesticides
11. Handling of herbicides and other toxic materials
12. Loading and carrying of heavy loads
13. Stripping and burning of fields

According to the Department Order also listed are activities in post-harvest, minors may not be employed in de-husking, scooping, sacking of products, charcoal making, hauling of products as led by animal guide, loading and unloading of packed farm products, coconut kilning and de-meating from shell or core, sealing and carting of produce for warehousing and transport to market and all ancillary work such as clearing, cleaning, and recycling of farm waste in its preparation as animal food and other related processes.

In livestock farming, work and related activities that are declared hazardous to minors are rearing activities that involve collecting, loading, unloading and transporting of feeds, maintenance and care of large and/or dangerous animals, collecting and disposal of dead animals, animal manure and other waste materials, administering of vaccines and vitamins, and handling of disinfectants used for cleaning animal pens/enclosures or for disinfecting animals.

In harvesting activities, work and activities that involve catching or collecting, ranching, and milking in preparation for warehousing or transport to market, and post-harvest activities including the packaging and processing of dairy and other animal by-products in preparation for warehousing and transport to market; and working in slaughterhouses or abattoirs.

According to DOLE, the best interest of children is the paramount consideration to ensure that their employment does not endanger their life, safety, health and morals, nor impair their normal development.

This is based on DO 149-A, series of 2017, issued on January 16, 2017, is an amendment to Department Order no. 149, series of 2016 on “Guidelines in Assessing and Determining Hazardous Work in the Employment of Persons below 18 years of age” particularly Section 6 – B “on Hazardous Work and Activities”, subsection (i) Farmers and Other Plant Growers and (ii) Animal Producers.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Small Farmers and Jollibee in Farm Entrepreneurship Program

Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) continues with its Farmers Entrepreneurship Program (FEP)  with Filipino farmers for 9 years. Launched in 2008, the program helps small farmers by integrating them with its supply chain for its giant fastfood business.

Initiated by the Jolibee Group Foundation (JGF), the farmers through their cooperatives supplies the vegetable requirements of the fastfood chain. Currently, supplying 20% to 30% of the the vegetable requirements, they aim to increase the participation by adding 3 more cooperatives in 2017 according to JGF Executive Director Giselle Tiongson.
 “We’re also looking at additional sites possibly in Calabarzon, Luzon and Metro Manila,” Tiongson disclosed

Farmers and cooperatives from the Visayas and Mindanao are also being considered in increasing the local supply component.

 “We are continuously looking for partners such as local government units and micro-finance institutions that will help the farmers,” added Tiongson.

One participant in the FEP has doubled his income since being part of the program and is presently earning Php1.5 million annually. 

Instead of just being limited to supplying the public wet markets, the contract farming under the FEP also has assistance from micro-finance institutions and the Local Government Units (LGUs)

This enables the farmers to program their production and output and has enabled them to be more financially and economically independent as farmers should be.

Their crops include palay, onions, and corn including “siling labuyo”.

This guarantees their income and have a stable customer base for their products.

With the guaranteed market, these farmers need not go into the usual mortgage of their lands so as to begin planting of their crops. This comes about because they are backed up by cooperatives that give guarantees to the micro-finance institutions.

Such exposure as being a supplier to a fastfood giant also opens up opportunities to other  industry markets that require farm and agricultural produce such as restaurants chains and food processors.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bitter-Sweet Symphony. Philippine Sugar Industry vs. HFCS

In 2011,  Sugar Watch, composed mainly of labor groups and agrarian reform beneficiaries initiated a boycott of Coca-Cola products nationwide if  the Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc. (CCBPI) refused to heed their call to stop importing sugar premixes and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and instead use domestically produced sugar. They were joined by the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, and other independent sugar groups. 

But the CCBPI replied that premix importations of HFCS’ have always complied with government’s Tariff Code and does not violate any of its provisions. The company cited that it also buys locally produced sugar but refused to give the exact volume citing “competitive information” reasons.

HFCS is sourced from corn syrup and Coca Cola has been cited in many other countries for substituting it for sugar as in cases also in Mexico.

HFCS comes as a cheaper sugar substitute since the corn industry in the United States, a top corn producer in the world is highly subsidized by the US government.

Thus, the battle lines has been drawn since 2011.

Recently,  a forum on the HFCS issue was conducted undertaken by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA). This was the first held outside of Quezon City being hekld at Ormoc City for the first time. This was participated in by the SRA Board and attended and lauded by 70 sugar farmers and associations.    

The SRA issued an order to regulate the importation of HFCS in the country.

Importation of HFCS is proving to be detrimental to the local sugar industry with losses amounting to billions of pesos. HFCS imports recently surged to an equivalent of 5 million bags of sugar that affected the prices of locally produced sugar and hurt the welfare of sugar farmers.

“Non-compliance with the provisions,” SRA warned, “shall subject the importer or consignee to the penalties provided under Sugar Order No. 10, series of 2009-2010, as amended by Sugar Order No. 10-A, series of 2009-2010, without prejudice to any other administrative and/or legal action that the SRA may pursue.”

Ever since the collapse of the Philippine Sugar Industry in the 1970’s, the once mighty industry sector has never fully recovered. Philippine sugar was once one of the twin towers of the Philippine agricultural industry, the other tower being the coconut industry. Even during this time, most of the Philippine population resides in the rural areas and poverty incidence has remained high in this. In fact, 60% of those living in poverty come from the rural areas.

The sugar industry needs all the help it can get to be more competitive again. Importation of HFCS will be like driving nails into the coffin of the industry.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mangroves potential lab for antibiotics

Philippine mangrove ecosystems have abundant bacteria whose bioactive compounds can be used to produce powerful antibiotics, according to research conducted by the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) and Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines.

DOST-NRCP researcher Teofila Zulaybar of UPLB was able to isolate bioactive compounds from actinomycetes bacteria found in 10 mangrove areas in 10 provinces in the country.

The research positively tested its efficacy in treating mastitis in cows by targeting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), its main causal organism. 

MRSA is a bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. Staphylococcus and MRSA can cause a variety of problems ranging from skin and bloodstream infections to pneumonia. 

Zulaybar was also able to screen which of the actinomycetes isolates are more effective in inhibiting the growth of different organisms other than MRSA that cause mastitis.  

Analysis of the biochemical properties of these actinomycete isolates is still ongoing but may soon be ready for patent application.

Zulaybar said that the isolates could serve as a new line of drugs for veterinary health. 

The next step in her study would be the formulation of antibiotic cream, ointment or an injectible form using the isolated bioactive compound from actinomycetes for treating mastitis in dairy cattle, she said.  

She called on other researchers to engage more in bioprospecting of novel microorganisms from rare environments that are yet to be studied in which potentially valuable compounds may be obtained for medicinal use and drug development.

Zulaybar is a member of a team of researchers from the UPLB-National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) doing research on indigenous actinomycetes. The team is led by Irene Alcantara-Papa.

The DOST-NRCP noted that the Philippines’ antibiotics supply is heavily dependent on imports.
Actinomycetes, the DOST-NRCP explained, are microorganisms that are crucial in the production of metabolites such as antibiotics, anti-tumor agents, immunosuppressive agents (or anti-rejection drugs often used by liver, kidney or heart transplant patients) and enzymes. 
These metabolites can be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-algal, anti-malarial, and with anti-inflammatory activities.

In the ongoing R&D on indigenous actinomycetes of the BIOTECH-UPLB, 272 actinomycetes in its collection have already been screened against organisms, among them MRSA.

MRSA is a form of bacterial infection difficult to treat because it is resistant to some antibiotics such as methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin and oxacillin. 

Of the 272 studied, 19 actinomycetes inhibited five strains of MRSA while 14 showed activity against the others.

Papa said that this research is essential for the continued search for novel bioactive compounds that could be used as antimicrobials, thus eventually enhancing the Philippine’s self-sufficiency and lessening importation of vital drugs.


Fish-yalan broodstock area at the Hundred Islands

Farm Tourism is one of the bright spots in the Philippine Tourism sector. There are now farms that are part of guided tours. It has developed from its nascent stages way back in the early 1980s with Villa Escudero as a prime example.

Not wanting to be left behind, the Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan will not just offer white sand beaches, island hopping and water sport activities but  “Fish-yalan” as well. 

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)’s Regional Mariculture Technology Demonstration Center just opened to tourists its broodstock area with the aim of educating people on raising high-value species.

“We have our Fish-syalan here,” said Martin Allayban, head of BFAR Cariaz Island broodstock development center. 

Fish cages will be found in the island. 

 “Our fish here are not commonly seen by people… like pompano and grouper that weighed up to two kilos each not commonly seen by people in the market,” Allayban disclosed.

The site is Cariaz Island and has broodstock of malaga, pompano, abalone, grouper, snapper, including seaweeds. 

Initially brought weighing only at 250 grams each, they were then placed in fish cages for 5 to 6 years.

The fish for broodstock purposes were given enriched feeds as supplements in order to boost gonadal developments that will result in the production of good quality eggs.

BFAR Region 1 Assistant Regional Director Rosario Segundina Gaerlan disclosed that the center was initially for research purposes eventually went to production of said fishes.

The foray into farm/aquaculture tourism will not only boost tourism revenues but also serve as training areas for those who want to engage in the culturing and production of the above-mentioned fish species for commercial and livelihood purposes.

Raising Native Chickens

Philippine Native Chickens

During my youth, we had a large family compound. Although we had a front fence, there were no fences between houses and a creek ran at our back yard. I grew up familiar with chickens, ducks, geese and even pheasants. The chickens were native of course and they ranged freely, laid eggs and their eggs hatched and they had chicks, same way with the geese, ducks and pheasants. It was rare that they had to be butchered since we bought our eggs and chickens for food from the public market. They were more or less treated as pets and part of the clan wealth.

The Vantress and Peterson chickens were part of my science experiment in grade school and I managed to breed them and they grew faster than the native chickens and they were also bigger. But they were not for consumption too since they were my “experiment.

As time went on, the need for increasing the sizes of the houses in the compound meant that there will be less space for them. The time came that the native chickens, ducks and other fowls died out and they no longer bred. It was my science experiments that survived the longest but they were no longer free ranging but were kept in coops.

Little that I know that the time will come when native chickens would be scarce in our community and can be only available in the public market. 

I the current setting, native chickens are still raised in rural areas and accounts for 46% of the country’s total chicken population (76 million). Being native chickens, they catch a premium price in the mrket and is a source of additional income for the poor rural households.

Recognizing this, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) through its Industry Strategic Science and Technology Program (ISP) for Native Chicken, has developed guidelines to enhance these raisers’ pastures and range areas to further improve production.

As with our past experience, native chickens must have a large but confining area. The chickens are free range as it is called now. The chickens can forage for their own food while having an environment where they can even ensconce themselves in the dirt and soil. 

Thus, DOST-PCAARD developed range enhancement strategies and supplemental feeding protocols. These will enable the owners of the chicken to maximize their income potential with healthier native chickens that can then be sold in the market.

A combination of farm-mixed feed and commercial feed is also encouraged and part of the management process for native chickens. Fresh drinking water must also be provided at all times.  Kitchen discards can form part of the nutritional requirements of the chickens. It is recommended by DOST-PCAARRD that a range area of at least two- meter per bird is recommended for free range area.  Vegetation may be planted which would serve as food for breeder chickens.

The planting of edible vegetation improves the quality of the existing range area for native chicken. Good quality forages are nutritious, palatable, highly digestible, and non-toxic and has anti-nutrient compounds. Some forage species are carabao grass, pinto peanut, Madre de Agua, Guinea grass, signal grass, and centrosema.

Other forage species include ‘gabi’, ‘malunggay’, Azolla, and duckweeds.

Raisers may also opt to use kitchen waste and farm by-products such as ‘sapal,’ rice/corn bran, fruit rinds, kitchen waste/leftover food, and vegetable rejects  such as ‘pechay,’ ‘kangkong,’ ‘mustasa,’ sweetpotato, and ‘alugbati.’ Fresh drinking water should be provided at all times.


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