"Support to Increase Agricultural Income of Micro-Scale Rice Farmers through Improvement of Farming Management" (I-FARM)
I-FARM supports smallholder rice farmers in agricultural management in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines. This project was launched because, as we undertook our ARMLED project, we realized that improved farming practices is vital to sustainable livelihood of the farmers.
The economy of the Philippines has been steadily advancing in recent years and the country is expected to become a middle-income nation soon. That being said, closing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor has been one of the greatest challenges for the country, and indeed around 20% of the population lives under the poverty line. The low land rice-farming district in the northern Luzon Island experiences a particularly large wealth gap - while a minority of rich farmers operate large-scale agriculture, a substantial number of smallholder farmers get to cultivate only small patches of poor soil. Most of these micro-scale farmers are trapped in a poverty cycle, in which they borrow money from loan sharks to pay their living expenses and end up accumulating a significant amount of debt.
About I-FARM and its foundation
Increasing the net profit of the micro-scale farmers is necessary for their sustainable farm operation. Through our "Support to Increase Agricultural Income of Micro-Scale Rice Farmers through Improvement of Farming Management" (I-FARM), the farmers perceive farming as a management activity and acquire skills to operate farms in a planned manner. Thereby, their gross income will increase while the production cost will decrease to maximize their net profit.
I-FARM was born out of our "Agricultural Rental Machine for Local Economy and Development" (ARMLED) project, which we have been operating since 2012. The Philippines, despite being one of the world's major rice producers, has low productivity and self-sufficiency of rice due partly to lagging mechanization of agriculture. Even if the farmers attempted to increase productivity, they could not access farm machinery as they were considered high-risk, low-return customers from the existing rental service providers. ARMLED thus provides a low-interest farm machinery rental service to the micro-scale farmers to help them increase productivity and income. However, as ARMLED progressed, we realized that improving the farming operation is also necessary to adequately increase the farmers' income, and that is why we have decided to launch I-FARM.
In I-FARM, we share our knowledge on production of organic fertilizer using rice straws and hulls, and of vegetables through double-cropping. These techniques have been inherited from our previous project called "Support to Improve Livelihood of Poor Farmers through Production of Organic and Reduced-Chemical Produce in Nueva Vizcaya" (SILFOR) that ran from March 2012 to March 2015. Also, I-FARM's training sessions are supported by the producers/traders organization that we launched through SILFOR called "Vizcaya Fresh! Organic Advocates, Inc." (VFI).
Summary of Activities
Training on basic accounting and farm business planning
Most farmers in the target communities have never done any accounting. Through I-FARM, they gain basic understanding of accounting and how to use the skill to visualize problems of their farm management. Also, we provide opportunities to exchange information and opinions among the farmers across the target communities, so that the farmers can find out the common inhibiting factors to improving the account balance as well as how to eliminate those negative factors.
In addition, we train the farmers to create annual plans on cultivation, transportation and budget. In developing the plan, they incorporate methods such as 3C (customer, competitor and company) of market analysis and 4P (product, price, promotion and place) of marketing to briefly assess the market and distribution channels of the local areas. The results of these analyses can then be used to improve the farm business in various ways, such as discovering a more efficient transportation method and identifying more appropriate buyers. Furthermore, through budgetary planning, the farmers can implement these improvements within their budget.
By cooperating with Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and Municipal Agricultural Office (MAO), we provide technical training on the selection of an appropriate variety of crop, the timing of cultivation, and the efficient usage of fertilizers and pesticides, among others, which all help to increase the amount of harvest. In particular, by using ATI's instruction manual, we aim to cut down the cost by reducing the amount and number of times the fertilizers and pesticides are used.
We also invite technical experts to train the farmers on cultivating produce other than rice in order to increase their income through interim cropping.
Additionally, training on creating organic fertilizers using rice straws and hulls as well as how to utilize them is provided to help further reduce the cost.
Using farm machinery & post-harvest techniques
Most smallholder farmers still rely only on human and/or livestock power. To spread awareness of the effectiveness of farm machinery, we have technical experts to explain how to use the machinery as well as the cost involved with it. In addition, we promote to minimize post-harvest loss by, for instance, providing a rice drying facility to prevent drying of the hull on the roadside which get lost or damaged by birds and cars.
Farm-to-market road repairing
There are many unpaved roads that get ruined or submerged under water by heavy rainfall, after which transportation of farm produce, usage of some of the farm machinery, or in the worst case the entire farm production become virtually impossible. Repairing and maintaining farm-to-market roads is therefore extremely important for continuous production and trade. We provide training on this matter with technical experts from a Japanese NPO called CORE: Community Road Empowerment, which specializes in road repairing using sandbags (do-nou) in various Asian and African countries. Furthermore, we construct "community irrigation facility" and "rice drying facility", which were found to be in need through the first-year assessment, to increase the effectiveness of the project.