In the earlier half of the 1980's, due to the decrease of sugar prices in the international market, Negros Island, (Visayas, Philippines) whose economic structure was supported solely by the sugar industry, experienced a great decline. At the time, a hunger relief program called the "Negros Campaign" was conducted with the help of Japanese NGOs. 30 years has passed since, and Negros' farming industry has changed dramatically.

The province of Negros is still one of the poorest regions in the Philippines, with its economic structure still dependent on the sugar industry even now.

In the year 1988, the Philippine government launched the "Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program," which distributes arable land to tenant farmers, in an effort to improve their quality of life.Under the Corazon Aquino administration, 1.7 million hectares of land were distributed to farmers. From Ramos to Estrada's administration, the total distributed land increased to up to 2.9 million hectares.

Unfortunately, however, the farmers who were awarded land lacked the necessary knowledge and experience in farming. With the arable land unused, some of the farmers in the communities even had to return the distributed land back to the landowners. There was also a lack of necessary support (in the form of infrastructure, organizations, finance, technology, etc.) for farming communities. Increasing productivity and improving livelihood became a problem.

Under such circumstances, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was created as an effort by the Philippine government to provide support to the farmers who received land grants.

DAR set up Agrarian Reform Commmunities (ARC) in 900 locations nationwide. General support was provided to farming organizations, with each community being a base for development.

Currently, the government agency offers Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services (ARCCESS), a program to support agricultural cooperatives. In Negros, in particular, DAR, in cooperation with farming support NGOs, has been working on the introduction of agricultural technology, as well as fostering agricultural development in general, to resolve the said province's plight.

The said program is currently conducted nationwide, holding possibilities for future business opportunities for Japan in terms of farming technology and machinery.

Digima News sits down with Regional Director Stephen M. Leonidas(At the center in the picture) of the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reform (Negros Province), as well as Assistant Regional Director Antonio del Socorro(At the left in the picture).

The said program splits up the land into communities (blocks) with a minimum of 300 hectares, with each block given a farm development plan. Each block also has mutual relations with surrounding blocks. Instead of competing, adjacent blocks share technologies and yield.

In the program, 5-year term objectives are set for each community, with growth of farming unions, farmers' income, infrastructural support, technical guidance, marketing strategy, irrigation, environmental protection, and all other possible indicators under an all-inclusive supervision being targeted and evaluated quarterly. Improvement in productivity is regarded as one of the key factors, and along with it comes necessary farm mechanization.

In the case of Negros, for example, sugarcane communities lack the necessary labor force to harvest products, and there are also cost issues. Thus, there is an urgent need for sugarcane harvesting machinery, and the mechanization of the entire industry even.

Negros' DAR Regional Director, Mr. Leonidas expresses his expectations towards mechanization: "Like Japan, the farming communities in the Philippines are also beginning to face aging issues, and younger generations are distancing themselves from farming. There is an increasing lack of manpower, making mechanization truly essential.

The three key points in farm machinery are (1) cost, (2) quality, and (3) speed of delivery. However, it is not an issue of whether the machinery in itself is expensive or not; rather, the emphasis is on whether it can produce results higher than its cost. As long as this condition is met, I think a good relationship can be built between this and the farming communities."

He also stressed the importance of educating people regarding agriculture: "I think what's even more important is educating the youth and teaching them the importance of agriculture. Under DAR's programs, unions managed by younger generations are slowly surfacing. If there are a lot of farmers' children with farming skills, or more people with technical skills in general, I think the income of farming communities will increase."

In the Philippines, there is a need to mechanize the entire farming industries of all produce, not only sugarcane, but also rice, among many others. Looking at the level of farm mechanization in the Philippines, measured by hectare per horsepower (hp), the Philippines stands at 1.23 hp/ha, India at 2.22 hp/ha, and Thailand at 4.20 hp/ha. From this, it is apparent that farm mechanization in the Philippines is falling largely behind.

On the other hand, Japan is at 18.87 hp/ha, approx. 15 times greater than that of the Philippines.

This is directly proportional to the level of productivity of farming in the Philippines. The Philippines' average production cost of rice per kilo is comparatively much higher compared to other nations, with Indonesia at 8.4 pesos, Thailand at 5.6 pesos, and the Philippines at 11 pesos. (Reference: The Philippine Department of Agriculture, Freedom Inc., Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization)

"China-made farming machinery do not last long, and there are numerous issues with maintenance once they're broken," the officials have stated in the interview. Allegedly, there were also cases wherein farmers would try to fix the machinery, but the instruction manuals were in Chinese which they could not understand.

On the other hand, Japan's farming machinery are esteemed for their high quality and resistance to breakage, and there is an increasing expectation towards Japanese farmingservice providers. Rather than the machinery itself, the emphasis is placed on maintenance and specifications, as well as other necessities such as technical guidance. If suppliers of farm machinery and technologies can build good cooperative relations with DAR's programs and continuous support is established, there is a possibility of long-term coordination for export of Japanese products.

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