‘No cluster, no assistance’ policy pushed

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is pushing for ‘no cluster, no assistance’ policy in the agriculture sector to force farmers to consolidate into cooperatives and associations, which will make it easier for the government to distribute farm assistance.

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the agency will “enhance what we have started under our National Corn Program (NCP)”, which recommended “no cluster, no assistance” policy in terms of production, post-harvest, processing, and marketing assistance.

“We will offer clustered and consolidated farms with incentives on top of the regular technical and marketing assistance under our major commodity programs. Incentives will come in the form of farm machinery such as tractors, harvesters, mechanical dryers, and processing equipment and related infrastructure,” Dar said.

Dar said that it is important to convince individual farmers and farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs) to merge and come together to optimize the interventions and assistance provided by the DA and other government agencies.

“Secondly, it is easier and more cost-efficient and effective for the DA to deal with organized farmers through their FCAs than individual farmers, as we provide them appropriate training and cutting-edge technologies, including farm inputs like seeds and fertilizers, and farm equipment and machinery,” Dar said.

Right now, the country’s farm holdings are still small and fragmented, a data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.

Of the total 5.56 million farms, with an aggregate area of about 7.2 million hectares, about 39 percent were half-a-hectare and below, while 32 percent ranged from one hectare to three hectares.

For its part, agriculture think tank Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) is also pushing for clustering of small farms to help ASEAN farmers overcome low and inconsistent-quality yield, scattered production, high transaction costs, and poor access to markets.

In a policy paper released on May 29, SEARCA recommended agricultural clusters as a strategic approach “to operationalize the appropriate channels at a scale necessary for it to have enhanced competitive strength to connect with national and international markets.”

As an example, the study cited a group of vegetable farmers in Mindanao, who significantly increased their production of sweet pepper, bitter gourd, squash, eggplant, chayote, tomato, Baguio beans, okra, and sword pepper after joining agricultural clusters.

SEARCA noted that on the average, the farmers’ income from vegetable production increased by 47 percent from P4,909 per month to P7,192 per month.

“Small is beautiful but big is powerful,” SEARCA Director Glenn Gregorio said.

Gregorio said government agencies and R&D institutions must promote specific institutional interventions to facilitate the intended benefits of the agricultural clusters.

He explained that R&D institutions can serve as “cluster champions” to strengthen the technological capacity of cluster members and promote partnerships.

On the other hand, an umbrella of programs and institutions to support agricultural clusters at the national level can be provided by the government, he further said.