A national validation of cluster projects in Bicol under the Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation (F2C2) program was conducted on August 30 to September 3, 2021. Emerson S. Yago, F2C2 National Program Deputy Director personally came to Bicol to see how these cooperatives/associations are sustaining their enterprises with the assistance of the program.

The national validation team, together with Dr. Mary Grace DP. Rodriguez, Chief of the Field Operations Division, visited three selected clusters previously assisted by DA under F2C2, namely: the 1. San Agustin San Ramon Agrarian Reform Multipurpose Cooperative (SARFC) in Bula; 2. Maymatan Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative (MFMPC) in Goa; and 3. CLLS Federation of High Value Crops Growers Inc. Libmanan, all in Camarines Sur.

A pilot cooperative in rice clustering in Bicol, SARFC is composed of 678 members. Among the businesses of SARFC are expanded palay and rice trading as DA granted them a Rice Processing Center and P1 million working capital. Arthur Rabeje, General Manager of SARFC said that the pandemic has been favorable to the coop in a way, as they sold P17.6 million worth of rice to LGUs in 2020 for the latter’s relief operations. The coop’s revenue from RPC and rice/palay trading doubled from P840,735 in 2019 to P1.68 M in 2020.

Under the F2C2 program, 419 hectares rice areas of 242 rice farmer members of SARFC were included in the clustering program. The farmers were provided with trainings, hybrid rice seeds, fertilizers and plant growth enhancers as well as knapsack sprayers. Based on the harvest report survey devised by SARFC, most of the farmer members increased their average yield when they used hybrid rice seeds and followed the recommendations of the Rice Program technical staff.

Meanwhile, in Goa, Camarines Sur, Director Yago visited a corn cluster, the Maymatan Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative with 673 members from four municipalities engaged in corn, cassava and palay production. The coop has a continuing contract with San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) as a consolidator and supplier of yellow corn, and also with Bicol BMEG Satellite Plant as consolidator of cassava. The coop has supplied 500 MT of yellow corn to SMFI in 2020 and almost 3,500 MT in 2021.

In 2020, the members of MFMPC received 50 bags of corn seeds from F2C2. In 2021, 60 bags of GMO seeds, 30 bags of OPV seeds and 60 bags of fertilizer benefited the members.

Felina Sanoy, Chairperson of the Board of the MFMPC said that “farm corn clustering has strengthened coop’s capability and access to market. The marketing agreement between the SLFI & MFMPC has also stabilized the price of corn in Tigaon and neighboring towns and afforded the farmer/members a consistent reasonable price of corn that did not fluctuate even during the peak of harvest season.

The F2C2 team also visited the CLLS Federation of High Value Crops Growers, Inc. with 495 members and aggregate cultivated area of 340 hectares all in Camarines Sur. This cluster engaged in vegetable production is composed of 17 associations.The F2C2 program provided the clusters with vegetable seeds, fertilizers, farm implements, 20 units knapsack sprayer, 4 units Pump Irrigation System for Open Source (PISOS) and 2 units multi-cultivator.

Robert Buayaban, president of the CLLS Federation said that they have a 2-year contract with LCC Supermarket for the supply of calamansi, tomato, sweet corns and water melon. The clusters also produce other vegetables which they market through kadiwa outlets and on wheels which supply vegetables to nearby towns in Camarines Sur and in Cainta, Rizal with the assistance of the AMAS and AMAD.“Dahil po sa farm consolidation, nakapagkontrata po kami sa LCC dahil kaya na po namin i-deliver yun demand nilang volume every week. Marami na din po ang naglakas loob na magtanim ng gulay dito sa amin dahil alam nilang may siguradong buyer at kami din ang nagdidikta ng presyo,” Buayaban added.

Luz R. Marcelino, RTD for Operations and F2C2 focal person for Bicol said that DA targets to organize 105 clusters, but for 2021, DA will focus only on 20 clusters. To be eligible under F2C2, the FCAs should have a minimum clustered area of 100 hectares for palay; 75 hectares for corn; and 50 hectares for vegetables and high-value crops. For livestock producers, they must have a feed mill within the production area, while small and large ruminants’ growers must have centrally-managed grazing land and feed production systems.

The DA started implementing F2C2 in compliance with DA Admin Order No. 27 issued by Secretary William Dar in August 2020. The program aims to advance the condition of small farmers and fishers by encouraging them to adopt the strategy of clustering and consolidation of their production, processing and marketing activities as community business enterprises, including pooling of assets, labor and other resources in order to effectively achieve and benefit from economies of scale in commodity production. It also seeks to forge stronger linkages between farm producers and market or bigger value chain and improve bargaining and market power of primary farm producers.

Director Yago was satisfied and pleased to see that consolidation and clustering has already been in practice in some farming communities in Bicol sometime before and more farmers have benefited from this set up although the term “clustering” may not be well known to many. (Lovella P. Guarin / DA RAFIS 5 photo credit: Hermito Antonio Privaldos) (With reports from Gina Nunez, Yen Dimaculangan and Amabelle Naldo)