In the shadows of the princely houses in a subdivision in Concepcion Grande, Naga City, lies despair and hope. Behind structures that boast of wealth and abundance, peasants thrive and strive to improve their lot.
The Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Concepcion Grande (SMCG) or Association of Farmers in Concepcion Grande is a local peasant association with 42 member-farmers. The farmers organized themselves in 1994 to work for the ownership of the land that they have been tilling. The farmers maintain that the land is agriculturally productive and has been bountiful since the time of their great grandfathers. Since the area is fertile and has access to irrigation facilities, they are able to cultivate and harvest rice three times a year.
While trying to uphold their legal claim, the organization also tries to address other issues and concerns confronting farmers in their community. They conceived that by facilitating post-harvest activities, they could also reduce their expenses and increase rice production efficiency. Thus, they sought assistance from the Antipolo Seminary Foundation (ASF).
The organization requested the ASF to assist its “Post Harvest Facility Project”. This project sought to:
- increase the income of farmers by having a rice thresher that will facilitate the harvesting activities of members at a lower cost; and,
- develop the capability of farmers through skills trainings on Simple Bookkeeping, Cooperative and Project Management.
The ASF, after discussing the request with SMCG’s leaders and members, recognized the project’s potential benefits to the farmers. The foundation supported the project starting 2001 by enabling them to conduct the above-mentioned capability-building training activities and through technical assistance extended during the semi-annual visits conducted by the foundation’s staff. The foundation also extended to SMCG a low interest loan package, without collateral, that enabled them to buy a brand new rice thresher with all the necessary accessories. Since then, the organization has been able to successfully implement their project and has already repaid for their loan.
During the semi-annual visits and consultations conducted by the foundation, SMCG’s leaders and members shared that the project has helped them considerably, not only in terms of facilitating their production activities but also in terms of helping the organization in its efforts to gain legal ownership of their land. Furthermore, they shared that project and the foundation’s assistance helped them through the following:
- Post-harvest expenses reduced. Twenty-eight SMCG members regularly patronized the services of organization’s rice thresher. From 2001 – 2004, the farmers paid P16 per sack of palay processed. The commercial rate then ranged from P18 – P20 per sack. In a recent assembly, SMCG members agreed to raise the rental rate from P16 to P18 per sack processed. Elsewhere, the price for the same services ranges from P21.00 to P22.00 per sack.
- Faster post-harvest processing and minimized loss. Privately owned threshers for rent serviced several communities and imposed a “first-come, first-served” basis. Potential customers had to find the machine that has the shortest queue of customers, request for its service, and wait for their turn. Those unfortunate enough to be at the end of the queue sometimes lost a part of their harvest to rodent infestation and water damage. This particularly true for harvests during rainy or typhoon seasons. SMCG’s rice thresher service prioritized its members. They no longer had to wait for the thresher coming from another community. According to them, this enabled rice from farmers their community to process their harvest more quickly and thus reduced loss resulting from rodent infestation and water damage.
- Strengthened the “Bayanihan” or mutual assistance system. With commercial operators, the farmers waited for the machine operators to transport, assemble and process their harvest. After gaining their own rice thresher, farmers in Concepcion Grande learned to help one another in transporting, assembling and processing the harvest of other organizations members. According to SMCG members, volunteering to help perform these tasks greatly reduced the time required to assemble the thresher, process the palay and disassemble the machine for another field. Overall, this enabled them to serve all members within a shorter period of time. They also appreciated the significance of being able to participate in SMCG’s decision-making processes
- Additional income. After serving all members requesting for the thresher’s service, SMCG processed requests from other communities. This meant additional income for the organization. Thresher operators also earned additional income. Four SMCG farmers served as thresher operators between 2001 to 2004. SMCG states that each operator earned at least P7,561 per harvest.
- Funds for Organizational activities. The thresher operations from 2001 to 2004 enabled SMCG to pay for the operators’ salary, shoulder the cost of thresher repairs and pay their loan. They also earned a net income of P41,466.42 which SMCG used to finance their activities, including expenses related to their legal battle for land ownership.
- Capability-Building. Twenty-seven SMCG members participated and benefited from the bookkeeping, cooperative and project management trainings. This exceeds the targeted number of participants(22 participants). This enabled them to gain insights on how to improve the management of their project and their organization. SMCG also shared that the bookkeeping training helped them gain insights on how to install an appropriate system to document their finances.
So how did the project and the foundation help SMCG? Beyond the six points noted above, the project is a tangible representation of the farmers’ dreams: the ownership of the land they till, the promise of abundant harvests in the future, unity among the members of their community toward the achievement of common goals. This small project strengthened their waning faith in their own capabilities and potentials. It provides them hope amidst the despair brought by shadow of each new opulent house in their community.