LEGAZPI CITY – A farmers' group in Libmanan, Camarines Sur is increasingly taking up vegetable farming and is now reaping handsome profits from the venture.
Gerard Buensalida, spokesperson of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Bicol (DAR-5), said in an interview on Tuesday the modest achievements of the Mambalite Palangon Farmers Irrigators Association (MAPAFIA) are being known throughout the community.
"Over 122 farmers and other residents, the majority of whom come from the barangays of Mambalite, Palangon, and as far as barangay Uson, benefit directly from the group's determination to progressively strengthen the organization," he said.
MAPAFIA was formed in 2019 and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the following year with the assistance of the DAR.
Florentino Umali, a vegetable farmer and president of MAPAFIA, said "many of us preferred to plant vegetables over palay because we realized that growing vegetables is much more profitable than rice farming, given that vegetables have a much shorter gestation than rice."
He noted that although vegetables require much more attention, the extra effort is compensated "many times over".
"Vegetables provide us with a reliable source of income that enables us to live a simple life free of so many worries. In our community, only the laziest will go hungry,” Umali said.
It is important, however, to program the planting of other vegetables to maximize the use of the farmland and avoid undue risks, he said, adding that programming ensures a continuing income flow.
"I'm very happy to say that farmers in our community are progressing like other farmers in other parts of the country," he said.
Umali said they cultivate eggplant on a larger scale than other crops and that their first harvest was in March.
He said they gathered between 2,000 and 3,000 kilograms per harvest in just one area of around 1.75 hectares, and expect even better yields through September.
Umali said they sell eggplants at a farmgate price of PHP20 per kilogram and earn between PHP40,000 and PHP60,000 per harvest, twice a week, or an average monthly gross sales of PHP400,000.
“That income increases as other farmers also regularly gather and sell native squash, ampalaya, okra, cucumbers, pole beans, bottle gourd, sweetcorn, and watermelon,” he noted.
Many of those who own the high-performing farms attribute their success to the collective effort and good fortune, including having access to particularly profitable markets for their produce.
"We gained the security of year-round markets for our produce," Umali said.
He said MAPAFIA consolidates and markets the farmers’ produce to local buyers in Camarines Sur who come to their farms regularly during harvest season.
As a consolidator, the association gets a 2-percent "management fee," which is added to the cooperative's income.
"We no longer have to deliver or transport our harvested vegetables to markets, as buyers have got accustomed to visiting us on our fields throughout the harvest season. We save significantly on fuel costs," Umali said.
He also noted that MAPAFIA made over PHP2.6 million in total sales when the organization became a direct supplier of various food and farm commodities to the National Nutrition Council's (NNC) "Tutok-Kainan" nutrition program in 2021.
Their courage in entering into a contract with NNC stems from their innovative ideas and solidarity as officers and members have transformed their once-struggling farmers' group into an enterprising organization.
Umali said they are hoping for another contract with the NNC sometime this year to re-supply various food and agricultural products for its feeding program. (PNA)