“Grow local. Buy local. Eat local.” The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Bicol amplifies this year’s National Rice Awareness Month (NRAM) theme to support rice farmers in the region for them to recover from the impact of the back-to-back typhoons. This year’s theme is a sequel to the 2019 campaign with emphasis on local rice production in addition to marketing and consumption of locally produced rice.

One of the staunch supporters of rice farmers in Bicol is the Pecuaria Development Cooperative (PDC) based in Brgy. Lanipga Bula, Camarines Sur.

“Kung ang lahat ng Pilipino kumakain ng unpolished (rice) no need tayong mag-export kasi pag unpolished ang kinain mo, masustansya na, kakaunti lang ang makakain mo imbes na magsasaing ka ng isang kilo, ¼ kilo lang isasaing mo, busog na ‘yung pamilya mo,” PDC General ManagerMiller Bicaldo said.

The coop, composed of a group of agrarian reform beneficiaries known as the People’s Coalition for Unity on Agrarian Reform Integrated Action (PECUARIA) was organized and registered with Cooperative Development Cooperative (CDA) in September 1991. It is a cooperative engaged in the production and marketing of certified organic pigmented rice like red, brown and black. Its businesses also include milling and marketing as well as bio-organic fertilizer production. PDC has 426 regular members and 350 associate members. Thirty of PDC’s farmer-members are into organic rice production in about 120 hectares of the 817 hectares total land area owned by the cooperative.

Sustainability is at the core of PDC’s operation from production to marketing. Thus, as it grows, the cooperative started producing its own inputs including seeds and bio-organic fertilizers. It also established its marketing arms — the Federation of People’s Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC), which has 1,000 outlets nationwide, Sunnywood Superfoods Corp., with 1,300 outlets, and Global Organic and Wellness Corporation (GLOWCORP), with 800 outlets, which maintains the cooperative’s international market. The PDC delivers four truckloads of organic rice to Metro Manila monthly, with 25 tons of organic rice each for the said markets. It also sells organic rice to walk-in clients in its display center in Bula, Camarines Sur. In 2019, the coop got P40 million sales from its organic rice products. In addition, the PDC expanded its organic rice production areas to Camarines Norte and Sorsogon. The cooperative also eyes expanding their operation in Mindoro and Isabela.

“Ang opportunity sa organic rice, marami. Kasi ang organic rice, ito po ang puwede nating i-export na kagaya ng ibang bansa na nagdadala dito ng mga produkto,” Bicaldo said. To gain access to the international market, PDC secured Halal certification and 3rd party certification from the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) starting 2007. At present, PDC is exploring the possibility of marketing its products in the Middle East, Egypt, and Switzerland.

With all these achievements, PDC acknowledged the major contributions of the DA-Bicol, particularly the Rice and Organic Agriculture programs. Bicaldo said that the DA funded the cooperative’s rice processing complex, warehouse, color sorter, circulating dryer, and hauling truck, to name a few. Recently, the cooperative also received a working capital worth P5 million, under the DA- Agricultural Credit Policy Council’s (ACPC) Expanded SURE Aid and Recovery Project (SURE COVID-19). This enabled the PDC to procure organic fresh palay at P16 per kilogram (brown) P17 per kilogram (red). It also buys dried palay at P17 to P18 per kilogram (brown) and P19 to P20 (red). It also offers loans to its members in the form of production inputs. To give back to the community, PDC provided relief packages including 10 kilograms of rice to its farmer-members and the residents of Brgy. Lanipga in Bula, Camarines Sur, where its office and processing area is located during the lockdown in April and after the onslaught of typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses.

“Malaking tulong sa production and marketing si DA kasi yung lahat ng pinaplano namin naisu-support rin sa amin ng ahensya. Maraming salamat Department of Agriculture kasi lahat nang nai-support (ninyo) ay napakinabangan namin, marami yung natutulungan namin,” Bicaldo added.

Ludem B. Molina, PDC farmer-member, attested to this, saying, “Napakaraming benefits na nakukuha kami bilang member sa PDC… Yung mga inputs namin nauutang namin gaya nung seeds, bio-organic fertilizer… at nagbabayad lang kami pag na-harvest. Pag na-harvest po yung palay namin, dinadala namin sa coop at nababayaran po kami ng sapat na presyo dahil kung nabibili yung palay sa open market ng P12, sa amin nabibili ng P18-P19 depende po sa kagandahan at sitwasyon ng palay sa panahon.” He also mentioned that many farmers in Bula now benefit from the Small Water Impounding Project (SWIP) that DA-Bicol has turned over last August.

In a Memorandum issued by the Office of the DA Secretary on October 5, 2020, Secretary William D. Dar rallied various rice stakeholders, particularly farmers to “Grow local” by optimizing farm yields using the PalayCheck System and other technologies and practices recommended by DA. He also encouraged them to avail government services through the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), Rice Resiliency Project (RRP) and National Rice Program (NRP). The Agri Chief also sought local government units and other institutions’ support for local farmers by “Buying local.” This can be done by buying rice farmers’ harvests at a reasonable price, adopting KADIWA as farmers’ marketing platform at the community or LGU level, and lobbying local ordinances to implement truthful labeling of rice source in the market. Moreover, he urged the rice-consuming public to “Eat local” by patronizing locally-produced rice, consuming brown rice or other nutritious forms of rice, and practicing the “Don’t waste rice” behavior.

Pursuant to Proclamation No. 524, s. 2004, November is declared as the National Rice Awareness Month. Likewise, per Proclamation No. 1030, s. 2015, it coincides with the Organic Agriculture Month celebration. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)