8.8 hectare farm village in Malvar, Batangas put up for aspiring agriculture entrepreneurs and hobbyists.

Vilegas OrganiKs founder Pabs Villegas in a horse-riding, agri-mentoring session at the VOHO Farm Complex, Malvar, Batangas

October 28, 2019

An organic  agri-tourism farm village stretching over 8.8 hectares in Malvar, Batangas  has been put up for  aspiring farm entrepreneurs and hobbyists who may now run their small farms and be part of the bigger, more profitable agriculture value chain.

   Agriculture Economist Pablito M. Villegas has established four separate, non-contiguous farms that operate as one agro-ecological and natural farming complex under the brand name Villegas OrganiKs.

   The farm village maximizes productivity and profit opportunities for small farmer-entrepreneurs or agripreneurs.

   Four farms form part of the Villegas. Organic & Hobby Farm Complex (VOHO) that are being sold to individual entrepreneurs.

   They receive a package of assistance in organic inputs supplies, agriculture technology, and marketing from VOHO and Malvar Organic Farmers Agriculture Cooperative (MOFAC).

  The farm lots have been sold to farmer-entrepreneurs who may be taking the risk for the first time in agriculture business. 

   But fortunately, they face higher profit opportunities and enjoy better risk management because of VOHO’s package of aids and services even to newbies.

   “We help amateur entrepreneurs to enjoy hobby and wellness farming and achieve economies of scale through consolidation of their produce together with other small farm lots owners,” said Villegas.

  He is an agriculture economist who was a retired vice-president of Landbank at the age of 40 and has been a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) consultant on agricultural and rural development.

  By operating as one the farm lots in the four farms divided into units with 1,000 to 5,000 square meter (SQM) area, farm investors can produce or buy cheaper inputs and have full access to natural farming technology. 

   They are able to negotiate with local buyers and direct consumers for a higher price for their produce with their combined bigger volume that enables them to sell to consolidators and institutional markets.

  Likewise, they are also able to obtain first and second party certification as organic producer or secure Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification through VOHO’s assistance.

   The  farm complex consists of the following farms that are all within Malvar township:

  • San Pedro Uno Farm, 3.0 hectares with 12 farm lots duly sold out with remaining 0.583 ha of available lots for sale. It is located right adjacent to STAR Expressway. A total of 12 farm lots are now owned by individual entrepreneurs while 2 lots are run by VOHO itself. There is a whole block of 5,830 square meters (SQM) that will be sub-divided into 4 to 8 eco-farmville lots.
  • Villegas has also put up an 8,000 SQM amenities area and technology demonstration  site for organic farming.  The amenities area has air-conditioned three-door inn with outdoor kitchen for lodging of agricultural tourists. There is a sauna facility, swimming pool, and gazebo. A water pump is available for irrigation and domestic waster use.
  • San Pioquinto Farm, 3.2 hectares, with 4 farm lots now owned by individual farm-entrepreneurs while 12 more lots cut into 2,000 m2 and 3,000 m2, are still available for lot purchasers. 
  •  San Gregorio Agro-forest, located in the watershed and protected area of Taal Volcano and its Lakes, is a 0.9 hectare property, with 7 agro-forest farm lots still available.  With its sloping, hilly land area, it will be developed with a trekking pathway and a Glamping (Glamorous Camping) area on the riverbed of Balete River that drains to Taal Lakes.  Continuous planting is on-going in the agro-forest area (rambutan, Thai mango, Taiwan atis and guyabano, Malaysian Langka, a dwarf productive breed).
  • Poblacion Eco Tourism & Agro-industrial Farm, 1.73 hectares.  It will be subdivided into 8 lots for eco-tourism and multi-use purposes (as events place, pension or retirement homes , warehouse and logistics, and trucking and storage). It is right within the midst of the Metro Turf Racing Track in Malvar, and the nearby Summit Point Golf Course in Lipa City.

   Through Villegas OrganiKs, farmers are able to access nearby markets in the booming economy of Batangas (Sto. Tomas, Tanauan and Lipa Cities) where the Malvar town is at the center of the province. 

   At the same time, the farm lots have  an easy access to Metro Manila as Malvar is just 60 kilometers away from Magallanes, Makati. 

   That’s only a 40-minute travel (without traffic) via the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR).

   Their markets include the Malvar Organic Trading Post, the Lima Land Industrial Park, also in Malvar, the Lima Hotel, SM-Lipa, and Robinson-Lipa, and Ayala Mall. 

   The farmer-entrepreneurs automatically get aid on agriculture technology, organic farming in particular, through the Malvar Organic Agriculture Cooperative once they hold membership.

   Even before an aspiring farm-owner gets to own a farm lot at VOHO, farm produce are already waiting for him to harvest as the farms are already planted with different organically-maintained crops or fruit-bearing trees   that command high value (higher price) in the market.

   The San Pioquinto Farm is planted to all-organic banana, dragonfruit, guyabano, malunggay, kalamansi, pomelo, cacao, coffee, durian, mangoes, chico and pili.  There are also areas for organic vegetables (empalaya, okra, sitao), winged and lima beans, yam, turmeric and ginger with non-sting bees as pollinators.

   The San Pedro Uno Farm  is also an orchard planted to varied fruit trees coconut, mango, avocado, rambutan, chico, lanzones.

   The San Gregorio Agroforest is planted to more than 150 fruit bearing trees including lanzones, langka, mangoes, avocado, coconuts and indigenous forest trees (bamboo and gmelina.)

   Villegas said he has put up VOHO with a concept he has carried all along since childhood in the farm and when he was part of a think tank and execution group in the University of the Philippines, Department of Agriculture and  Land Bank and as an agriculture economist (with FAO/UN, ADB, World Bank and his consulting firm, Meganomics).

   As an employee or consultant then, he crafted value chain master plans programs and projects for agriculture and fisheries development in Africa, Pacific Islands and Asian economies including Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

   He has long conceptualized the Nucleus & Satellite Organic Farm Cluster (NUSOFAC). 

   It was long ago just a concept that aims to optimize farm productivity and give small farmers the benefit of being connected to the bigger, even international supply chain.

   But now he has made this concept into a reality in his own VOHO Farm model.  

   In this case, the nucleus is the VOHO Farm Complex, and it is the link that connects small farmers to the value chain. The satellites are the small farms connected via membership with MOFAC.

   The Villegas OrganiKs also has the SAGE, a Learning Center in its Amenities Area that also makes it an accredited learning site of DA/ATI for organic agriculture that has 3 training rooms and 28-people bamboo dormitory. Now, it has transformed into an agri-tourism destination.

   The Learning Center lodging has a 3-room Inn that may accommodate 10-15 persons.  The Amenities Area also has a swimming pool, a spa within and gazebo in front of a wide veranda.  

   As an agri-tourism site, the bonus it offers is the barriotic, refreshing panoramic view of four mountains– Mt. Makiling, Tagaytay Higlands, Malarayat Mountain ranges, and Mt.

Makulot.  The town is also surrounded by three rivers– Balete River, Alulod River, and San Juan River.

   The San Pedro 1 Farm is powered by solar panels, aside from power from the national grid, enjoying an environment-friendly, stable and hybrid source of electricity.

   Villegas encourages young and senior citizen investors to try farming initially as a hobby for health and wellness and eventually as a profitable and rewarding experience Villegas Organiks also contributes to the country’s food security and poverty reduction with 3 farmer laborers now transformed into farm family agripreneurs engaging on-farm, off-farm and non-farm enterprises.

   “While one is young, he should invest in agriculture, so that he will see his investment’s opportunity grow through the years,” he said.

   After all, even if one does not engage in farming in the farm village but just enjoy its provincial surroundings just a little outside of Metro Manila, he gets to own a fast-appreciating value for money property just nearby the nearest expressways from Metro Manila. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

Govt to face court suits for abandoning safeguards amid Hitlerian reasoning it’s to benefit 108 million Filipinos vs “only” 10 million farmers

October 20, 2019

The private sector has warned government of possible lawsuits for “illegally” refusing to enforce the “mandated” safeguards against rice imports in Nazi-like reasoning that it is a choice between “105 million Filipinos versus 10 million farmers.”

   The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture & Food (PCAFI) said the Department of Agriculture (DA) and government’s economic managers are committing an “illegal act” for deliberate abandonment of its poorest sector despite claims of “inclusive” development.

   It is explicitly indicated in Section 10 Republic Act 11203 (Rice Tarrification Law ) Section 10 that “in order to protect the Philippine rice industry from extreme price fluctuations, a special safeguard duty—SSG– on rice shall be imposed.”

   As such it is incumbent upon government to enforce the safeguards legal mandate.

   “Although it is not their (DA and economic managers) intention, but the argument that we should choose 105 million Filipinos as against 10 million farmers (psa.gov.ph, 2018)  is like Hitler justifying the killing of six million German Jews to save the German Aryan nation.

   “They have yet to effectively implement the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, but they led them to slaughter,” said Lawyer Elias Jose M. Inciong, PCAFI director.

   PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto said granting farmers an additional P3 billion cash assistance in place of implementing SSG on rice imports is tantamount to “violating the law” itself.

   This may subject government authorities to court suits.

“That is a clear analogy that like the German Nazi and Hitler, you are willing to slaughter 10 million farmers to save 105 million consumers. But farmers are also consumers. That’s why inflation is just at 0.9 percent because farmers don’t have the money to buy. Demand is low,” said Fausto.

   The DA and economic managers are misleading the public by claiming implementing SSG is inflationary.

   “This is a diversionary tactic to protect those who benefited from this law which are importers. The ones favored by this law are not consumers, much more not farmers, but importers.  They’re trying to divert us from the fact that so far the importers are the beneficiaries of the law,” said Inciong.

   It is utterly unfair that government is insulting its own farmers by giving a cash consolation of P3 billion (as earlier announced by DA) in place of the safeguards mandate. 

   “The government really looks down on farmers.  It is in bad faith to even argue that safeguards are inflationary.  They’re in bad faith for refusing to implement the law,” said Inciong.

   “The law mandates Section 10 of RA 11203, meaning the executive has no choice but to impose it.  The meaning of impose is to establish the mechanism,” said Inciong, a lawyer and also president of the United Broiler Raisers Association some of whose farmer-members are planting rice.

  Government should start having a new perspective on farmers.

   “Farmers don’t plant to save the agriculture industry.  They plant to sustain their livelihood, to have income.  The government should now see farmers not as welfare beneficiaries, but as a business sector that needs to profit,” Fausto said.

   Inciong said government’s task under the law is simply to come up with a mechanism implementing the SSG based on either price or volume triggers. 

   If, for instance, the trigger price is set at P35 per kilo and the landed price of imported rice hits below P35, an SSG should automatically be implemented. The lower it is from the trigger price, the bigger the duties to be imposed.

   “The only thing DA has to do is to issue an order requesting the Commissioner of Customs through the Department of Finance. It is in bad faith to say it is inflationary because they can suspend the SSG anytime.  That claim has no credence,” said Inciong.

   Unfortunately, DA is apparently refusing to even come up with this mechanism.

   “The way the law was crafted and in practice, when you say impose, you establish the mechanism. The mechanism is to find out what is the trigger– when to apply the special safeguard, either price or volume trigger”

   So far, the indicative volume trigger of rice imports must have already been hit as “we only need 1.9 million tons of imports, but our importation has already hit 3 million tons according to (DA Secretary William) Dar himself,” said Fausto.(Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

Sugar supply stabilization, not import liberalization, sought by food/agriculture processors, 105,000 MT allocation asked

October 14, 2019

Food and agriculture processors have asked for a sugar import allocation of an estimated 105,000 metric tons (MT) annually to stabilize their manufacturing input and raise their global competitiveness with heftily lower cost.

   The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture & Food Inc (PCAFI) and member  Philippine Food Processors &  Exporters Organization (Philfoodex) is asking Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar to grant a maximum of 10% sugar import allocation.

   This is out of the country’s annual sugar production placed at 2.1 million MT.  However, even just half of this amount, or 105,000 MT will be good enough to significantly raise food processors’ global competitiveness.

   It will cut sugar cost for food manufacturing from P55-P60 per kilo locally to P28-P30 per kilo in other South East Asian countries, particularly Thailand.

   PCAFI President Danilo V Fausto said this petition of PCAFI and PHilfoodex for an import allocation will be accompanied by an implementation mechanism to ensure it does not adversely affect local sugar farmers’ plight.

   “We’ll issue a petition to be submitted to Secretary Dar and President (Rodrigo) Duterte. We will also propose an implementation mechanism that will ensure this allocation will not go to the retail market but rather help our food producers become competitive,” said Fausto.

   Philfoodex President Roberto C. Amores said not even the entire 10% of production will be asked by processors.

   Initially, only 50% of each company’s sugar requirement based on its production program is proposed to be granted to the company.

   “We’re not talking about even 10% of the 2.1 million.  We’re not requesting for liberalization. We’re requesting for import allocation for stabilization for the cause of processors,” Amores said.

   “As a processor, you will submit your requirements based on your production program and sales. And you will be given only 50% of your requirement (not 100%).”

   This initial allocation per processor will establish credibility of the processor. 

   The processor should  guarantee that the sugar import will be used solely as input for its food manufacturing, not for retail to the domestic market (adversely affecting sugar farmers’ income).

   Dr. Rolandy Dy, Center for Food & Agribusiness (University of Asia & the Pacific) chief and PCAFI member, said the sugar import allocation for local food processors is necessary.

   “We’re not competitive.  Never mind (if we’re not competitive in) softdrinks which is not exportable because softdrinks are heavy. The problem is we’re not competitive in products like biscuits, candies,” said Dy.

   Filipino food processors can hardly compete with ASEAN biscuit manufacturers.

   “I’m talking about those 4,500 food processors who are paying P55 versus P28. When Apollo biscuits from Malaysia (or Indonesia) arrive here, it’s only P10. Pero pag gumawa si Mang Pandoy ng Apollo biscuits nya, P15 ang puhunan nya,” said Amores.

   (If Filipino businessman Mang Pandoy produces his own Apollo biscuit, his cost is at P15).

   Some groups have opposed such allocation due to past experiences when some imports for manufacturing input have been diverted to the domestic market. 

   This concerns not only sugar, but other imports such as carabeef (carabao meat from India).

   But a proven effective mechanism to control such diversion is to make the food manufacturers themselves to police their ranks, PCAFI said.

   Fausto said members of PCAFI, Philfoodex, and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI) may be tasked to monitor if the import allocation is being diverted to the market.

   Amores stressed food processors’ import need is not for liberalization.

   “I would like to correct the impression that this is liberalization. The sugar industry in Negros has been writing all over the news that the private sector led by me is espousing liberalization. It’s not,” he said.

   “We all know that since our sugar sector is not competitive, we can’t be self-sufficient in sugar as sugar area is declining.  But we have to admit some traders are riding on this issue in the guise of protecting farmers.”

   Also, it is initially proposed that the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp (PITC) be the one to do the importation.

   Philfoodex lamented that while the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) had once approved sugar importation for 170,000 MT, this volume has not benefited food processors.

   Since SRA issued a memorandum allowing this volume to be designated as “reserve,” some of this sugar found their way into the domestic market since reserve sugar is allowed to be released domestically.

   “But we have not benefitted from this allocation,” said Amores. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

70% rice tariff, urgent rice safeguards implementation asked

October 2, 2019         

A rice tariff of at least 70%, as sanctioned by the Rice Tariffication Law’s (RTL) safeguards provision, was pressed to be urgently implemented by government to arrest further imports hitting beyond all-time high records, saving Filipino farmers.

   The safeguards will also save government from needing to spend huge funds for conditional cash transfer or farmers’ loan, now placed by Department of Agriculture (DA) at P15 billion, just to spare Filipino farmers from serious economic damage.

   The private sector, representing thousands of Filipino farmers under its wings in the supply chain, has pegged desired rice tariff to at least 70% in order to beef up global competitiveness of  Filipino produce.

   At the same time, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture& Food Inc. (PCAFI) asserted that it strongly supports the RTL, contrary to what may be perceived by some groups.

   “We are supporting the law. Therefore let’s implement the law. We want the law, that’s why we want it implemented,” said PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.

    PCAFI warned the continuous influx of cheap imported rice may threaten the country’s national security, prompting hungry farmers in the rural areas to resort to joining communist rebels.

   “We have to assess the situation because any further damage may affect our national security.”

   Unlike the position of some groups adversely affected by the RTL, Fausto said PCAFI wants RTL upheld through immediate implementation of its explicit provisions.

   “We’re not asking for a repeal of the law or an amendment of the law.  And if the law says, section 10 of Republic Act there are safeguards, let’s implement it.”

   A tariff rate of at least 70 percent should be reasonable enough to give the Filipino farmers at least the “temporary” yet extra edge against imports.

   “Our palay price is now at around P12 per kilo. But NFA should buy it at P17 (to aid farmers).  At that buying price, it will sell in the retail market at P34 per kilo, when milled.  Then domestic rice will even out with the imported at P34,” said Fausto.

   With price of both domestic and imported rice at same level, “why would you bother importing?”

   Ernesto Ordonez, PCAFI trustee and Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA) chairman, said the imposition of safeguards from the current 35% level is urgent even as there are trade notification rules involved.

   AFA is composed of five sectors: farmers and fisherfolk, (Alyansa Agrikultura-AA), agribusiness, PCAFI, science and technology (Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines – CAMP), rural women (Pambansang Kilusan ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan – PKKK), and multisectors (Agrifisheries 2025 – AF2025). 

   “We do not want a repeat of the mistake during the 1990’s when we agreed to the too rapid tariff reduction without giving the farmers the necessary support services and the WTO-approved safeguard measures,” said Ordonez.

   Ordonez cited the Department of Agriculture September 9 national survey where imported rice with the 35% tariff caused farmgate wet palay prices in Regions 2, 3, 11 averaged P12.10 a kilo, barely above the P12 production cost.

   CAMP President Emil Javier favored measures like cash transfers and assistance in credit, technology, and marketing.

   AFA stated it rejects calls for a return to government rice import monopoly and supports food security instead of food self-sufficiency.

   “In areas where rice production is not competitive, the government must provide assistance for transition to higher value crops,” said Ordonez.

   The tariff protection under safeguards will just be a temporary, a transitory, policy, PCAFI asserted.

   “DA should immediately implement it as promised it should be by October 1.  Anyway, that will just  temporary, while we’re trying to give our farmers time to upgrade their competitiveness.”

   Now at 2.4 to 2.5 million MT (MT), imports must immediately be curbed.  The Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA)  placed projected import for the year to hit 2.6 million MT.

   Fausto said even a P34 against P34 per kilo Filipino against import price will be enough.

   Imported rice is currently being traded at around P17 per kilo.  With trader’s overhead, it rises to P20 per kilo, and finally to P27, P28 per kilo in the retail market (with logistics costs). 

  “But imported rice should be at least equal the local market price.  That will make them lose over domestic rice.  Now, NFA should ensure farmers dictate the buying price of palay at P17 per kilo for dry and P13, P14 per kilo for wet.”

   PCAFI Trustee Elias Inciong is questioned why some groups may be opposing the safeguards implementation even if they are representing sectors that are not rice-related as compared to suffering rice farmers.

   “They don’t want higher tariff?  Why?  Because it will affect consumers? (or their businesses?)”

   But PCAFI, some of whose members themselves plant rice in poverty stricken, rural areas, want more protection for precious but few Filipino farmers that remain sustaining to raise the country’s food security.

   Under Republic Act 880, the Safeguard Measures Act, safeguards may be imposed in the following conditions (Rule 2.2a-c) all of which conditions are reported to have been happening after the RTL implementation:

  • significant idling of productive facilities in the domestic industry including the closure of plants (rice mills) or underutilization of production capacity
  • inability of a significant number of firms to carry out domestic production at a profit
  • significant unemployment or underemployment within the domestic industry.