To the question of pandemic recovery, potato may be an answer

Published July 28, 2021, 8:00 PM

by Marie Buenaventura

How these Filipino farmers are overcoming the challenges of these times

BOUNTY OF HARD WORK Farmers from Bukidnon working in the field and showing off their bountiful harvests from last year

“Talagang natulungan ‘yung mga farmers nitong pandemic dahil sa pagtatanim namin ng patatas (Potato farming has really helped farmers during the pandemic),” said Ardan Copas, a farmer from Benguet. Arden is a member of the United Potato Cooperative, one of the associations of farmers supported by Universal Robina Corporation’s (URC) Sustainable Potato Program.

First initiated in 2018 to complement the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), URC’s Sustainable Potato Program provides farmers access to quality potato seeds, training, research, and development, thereby getting its captive markets.

Through this initiative, Ardan, along with several other farmers, has seen plentiful harvests over the past three years. Program statistics show that farmers were able to harvest 1,258 MT of potatoes in 2020. Additional data provided by the DA Region XI HVCDP office reveals how farmers today can harvest 10 to 15 kilos compared to three kilos of potatoes per one kilo of seeds in the past.

URC’s collaboration with Prince Edwards Island (PEI) Potato Board led to a five-day training session in Canada where beneficiaries were able to hone knowledge on seeding and planting, soil management, proper storage, and other key practices for more effective farming techniques.

More important, potato farming has proven beneficial to the livelihood of both the farmers and their communities, especially during this time.

Positive impact on farming communities

POTATO SEEDS DELIVERY Several sacks of potato seeds were unloaded from a truck and distributed to farmers.

Last year, URC was able to donate 135 metric tons (MT) of Granola Elite 3 table potato seeds imported from Canada to over 1,000 farmer beneficiaries in Bukidnon, Davao Del Sur, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).

In Tagalog, Arden related, “The seeds we received were really good and helped us a lot. Before, our yield was lower, but now, it’s been abundant and our farmers have earned more because of our ₱30 to ₱35 per kilo selling price. During the pandemic, we were able to release over one million kilos of potatoes thanks to this program.”

“The program has helped 100 percent of our farmers here in Imbayao. We’re grateful to URC because they helped us improve our potato farming and our livelihood,” said Gabriel Bandao, a farmer in Bukidnon and head of the Imbayao Community Participatory Action Research Association (ICPARA).

‘Before, our yield was lower, but now, it’s been abundant and our farmers have earned more because of our ₱30 to ₱35 per kilo selling price. During the pandemic, we were able to release over one million kilos of potatoes.’

During last year’s harvest, the farmers from Bukidnon were able to sell almost 10,000 kilos of potatoes at an average price of ₱65 to ₱70 per kilo. These opportunities have encouraged others to take up farming, especially during the onset of the pandemic, when a lot of people lost their jobs. In fact, many of the recent potato farmer joiners, under the Sustainable Potato Program, actually come from urban areas, including Metro Manila and Davao City.

“Some farmers used to work in the city’s service sector. But during the pandemic, they went back home to the province so they could plant potatoes because they saw how their neighbors’ lives and communities had improved,” Department of Agriculture’s Melani Provido said in Filipino. Melani is a DA representative of Alegre Vegetables and Arabica Growers Association, Mt. Apo Potato Farmers Association (in Balutakay, Davao Del Sur) and Highlight Farmers Agriculture Cooperation (in Kapatagan, Lanao Del Norte).

Reaping the benefits of sustainable potato farming

FRESH HARVEST Potatoes from Benguet, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), one of the areas supported by URC’s Sustainable Potato Program

Also contributing to the continuous bountiful harvests is the sustainability aspect of the program. Ardan explains that farmers reserve 30 percent of their harvest and use these as seedlings. This lets them prepare for the next farming season without having to wait for the next batch of seeds, and allows them a guaranteed yield, year in, year out.

“The main objective of the program is to provide sustainable seedlings, and offer access to necessary trainings, so that each farmer would be able to further build on their capability and knowledge in handling and cultivating the seeds and seedlings. They can have bountiful harvests each year,” said David Lim, URC’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer.

The Sustainable Potato Program is part of URC’s move toward becoming a global sustainable organization. “Our company is building its sustainability roadmap alongside the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said Laurent Levan URC’s senior vice president for corporate development and external affairs. “This includes responsible sourcing, production, consumption, and developing the capabilities of communities for better livelihood.”

As the country looks forward to a recovery from the pandemic, the agricultural sector continues to play a huge role in reviving the economy and sustaining food security.