By Lovella P. Guarin /DA RAFIS 5)

LIBMANAN, CAMARINES SUR – It is true that opportunity knocks but once, says a famous proverb. Thus, when numerous opportunities knocked on them during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert Buayaban, President of the Agripreneur Farmers Producers Association, Inc. (AFPAI), did not hesitate to grab and seize them. Through farm consolidation and with the unified strong support from his over 300-member vegetable growers from the 11 towns of Camarines Sur, they were able to sustain their production and respond to the demands of institutional buyers.

At 35 years old, Buayaban has adeptly maneuvered the 5-year old farmers’ association to greater heights.

After their organization in 2016, the AFPAI started capacitating their members through attendance to trainings conducted by the DA regional office and the LGU of Libmanan with Municipal Agriculturist Francis Brazal and Irma Intia, AEW incharge in HVCDP. “Whatever knowledge we have acquired, we practice them at our learning site. Nagdevise kami ng sarili naming planting calendar para maiwasan ang over supply at yun kawalan ng supply, ” said Buayaban.

They also use plastic mulch provided by the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) to suppress weeds and conserve water. This technology involves growing crops through holes lined along the plastic sheeting that covered the elevated plots. Elevated plots also prevent crop damage from flooding.

They seek new technologies which could improve their production. At present, more than 20 hectares of their aggregate 300 hectares plantation are equipped with drip irrigation and fertigation technologies. “Nag focus talaga kami sa farm lay outing, kaya nakukuha na namin yun tamang oras sa pagharvest ng produkto, tamang sukat at kalidad ng produkto na tiyak na pasado sa institutional buyer.

One member of the AFPAI is Albert Del Rosario. He used to work as a technician in a private agricultural inputs manufacturer but he saw the huge potential in farming. He now grows sweet corn, eggplant, squash, cucumber and watermelon in a 14-hectare area plantation in Mambalete, Libmanan. His farm is equipped with drip irrigation and fertigation technology. He is able to fertilize a hectare area in just two hours with just one laborer. In one day, they can fertilize three-hectares plantation using the fertigation technology. Kung walang drip irrigation at fertigation ay kailangan ng 10 tao upang magfertilize ng isang ektarya. “Ang mga importanteng requirement for high quality produce ay water supply and nutrient or fertilizer. Pag limitado sa tubig, limitado din ang harvest,” del Rosario said.

Buayaban and Del Rosario encourage their farmer members to adopt the drip irrigation technology to be able to plant even off season crops year round to maintain sufficient volume of produce that their buyers require.

Their existing market, which have started in March 2020 during the onset of COVID-19 pandemic is the Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita sa DA Central Office in Quezon City. They also maintain a Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita outlet and trading posts in Sipocot and Libmanan, Camarines Sur.

Since 2019, they have been supplying vegetables to a local food chain, the BIGGS Incorporated and the Lion Commercial Corporation (LCC). Buayaban renewed their contract with the LCC this year 2021 to deliver the LCC’s weekly requirement of 3 tons of calamansi, 1.5 tons tomatoes, 3 tons watermelon, 1,500 pcs sweet corn, eggplant and squash depending on the supply and demand. LCC has over 80 stores in 50 towns and cities in Bicol.

Buayaban is also a member of the Tienda Farmers and Fisherfolk Association nationwide representing the Agripreneurs. The Agribusiness Marketing Assistance Service (AMAS) in DA Quezon City and the Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD) at the DA regional office were instrumental in the continuous market linkage being enjoyed now by the Agripreneur. Nakilala namin ang kapwa namin vegetable producers at iba pang farmers associations in the entire Luzon Visayas at Mindanao. Tumatawag sila sa amin kung wala silang produkto, gayundin kami. Kung anong meron sa kanila na wala sa amin ay binibili din namin. Nagpapalitan kami ng produkto,” enthused Buayaban.

“Pangarap po namin na maging supplier ng gulay hindi lang sa buong Bicol Region kundi pati sa buong Pilipinas,” Buayaban shared his long term vision.

While other sectors of the economy suffered a slump during the pandemic, the Agripreneur has received many opportunities during the pandemic. In 2020, the AMAD granted them P2M worth Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita grant which they used to buy a delivery truck with lifter to transport agri-commodities to ensure sustainability and availability of supply in and outside the region.

Adelina A. Losa, Chief of the AMAD said that in 2020, the Agripreneur has sold or transported a total of 144 MT of various lowland vegetables to Kadiwa outlets in Metro Manila particularly in Cainta, Rizal and Quezon City amounting to P5M, which helped maintain food security in Metro Manila amid the pandemic.

Losa added that as of July 15, 201 DA 5 through the AMAD has facilitated the delivery to Metro Manila of various agri commodities from Bicolano farmer entrepreneurs, namely: 181 Metric Tons (MT) of vegetables; 2,192 MT of pineapple, 141 MT of corn, 13,446 MT of palay, and 1,665 MT of rice. Out these, 144.60 MT of vegetables came from the Agripreneurs.

“We saw the importance of clustering and being an organized group. Noong hindi pa sila miyembro, hirap silang magbenta ng kanilang produkto dahil hindi nga makalabas. Pero ngayong member na sila sa Agripreneur, hindi na nila kailangang lumabas para maghanap ng buyer dahil ang asosasyon mismo ang pumupunta sa farm nila para mag pick up ng produkto at madala sa mga institutional buyers namin, ” Buayaban said.

“Nagkaroon din po ng kompyansa (confidence) ang maraming magsasaka sa aming lugar na magbalik sa pagtatanim dahil sa nakita nilang may siguradong buyer na ang kanilang produkto pagdating ng anihan,” he added.

Hindi sila masyadong naghihirap ngayon dahil kami ang nagbebenta ng produkto nila. Kumikita na sila nang malaki.Buayaban thanked all the agencies that helped the Agripreneur. “Nagpapasalamat po kami sa DA, sa AMAD, HVCDP, sa ATI, DTI, at sa OMAsenso sa Kabuhayan – project of Office of the Vice President, and Metro Naga Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MNCI)” he quipped.

From the then Bottom Up Budgeting, the Agripreneur received a Cacao Processing facility building which they are now using to process surplus produce. The HVCDP also provided them with a P1.5M worth hauling truck which they use in buying vegetables from their members and transporting produce to Manila. The association also received P3.1 M worth of vegetable seeds and planting materials, fertilizers, rainshelter, PISOS, spring development and farm tools and equipment such as power tiller and multi-commodity solar tunnel dryer.

The members equally benefit from these farm equipment and share a percentage of their produce for maintenance. Members also enjoy the use of farm equipment, free supply of vegetable seeds, fertilizer and free technical assistance. The Agripreneur formulate its own foliar fertilizer which is being distributed to the members. The most important benefit of clustering is farmer-members now have ready buyers for their produce.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar pushes the four key strategies to transform the Philippine Agriculture under the One DA reform, namely: Farm Consolidation, Modernization, Industrialization, and Professionalization. “To achieve this, they (farmers) must be transformed from mere producers of raw materials to owners of agribusiness, or agripreneurs, with value added to their products and marketing in order to maximize their profits.”In response to Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation (F2C2) Program, the HVCDP led by Dr. Mary Grace DP. Rodriguez, Chief of Field Operations Division organized the CLLS Federation of High Value Crops Growers, Inc. wherein Buayaban is the President. The said federation is composed of high value crops farmers associations from Camarines Sur towns namely: Cabusao, Libmanan, Lupi and Sipocot

(Photo credits : Eduardo Collantes, Jr, Ramon Adversario of RAFIS 5, and AFPAI)

Birds eye view of vegetable plantation of Agripreneurs Farmers and Producers Assn alongside the portion of Bicol river in Libmanan, Camarines Sur. (Drone shot by Eduardo Collantes, Jr – RAFIS 5)
Robert Buayaban, President of the Agripreneur Farmers Producers Association, Inc. (AFPAI) and Cabusao, Libmanan, Lupi, Sipocot (CLLS) Federation of High Value Crops Growers, Inc.
Vast eggplant plantation in Mambalete, Libmanan owned by members of the Agripreneur Farmers Producers Association, Inc. (AFPAI).
Cabbage plantation at the mountainous areas of Busac, Libmanan owned by members of the Agripreneur Farmers Producers Association, Inc. (AFPAI).
Cabbage plantation at the mountainous areas of Busac, Libmanan owned by members of the Agripreneur Farmers Producers Association, Inc. (AFPAI).
Long hoses of drip irrigation can be still be seen alongside newly planted watermelon and corn in this photo of AFPAI plantation in Libmanan, Camarines Sur.
Albert del Rosario of AFPAI Libmanan, Cam. Sur shows how drip irrigation and fertigation works.