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Potatoes for the future

Farmers share how the root vegetable helps in the pandemic

When the pandemic hit the service industry, some of the affected employees took to farming. 

Such is the case of farmers under the Sustainable Potato Program of Universal Robina Corporation. 

“Yung ibang farmers, nagtatrabaho dati sa service sector ng city. Ngunit ngayong pandemic, umuwi at umakyat muli sila sa bukid para makapagtanim sila ng patatas dahil nakita nila na talagang umunlad ang kabuhayan ng kanilang mga kapitbahay at communities,” shared Melani Provido. 

PLENTY POTATOES. (Left) Farmers from Bukidnon show off their bountiful harvests from last year, (right) freshly harvested potatoes from Benguet, one of the areas supported by URC’s Sustainable Potato Program. 
PLENTY POTATOES. (Left) Farmers from Bukidnon show off their bountiful harvests from last year, (right) freshly harvested potatoes from Benguet, one of the areas supported by URC’s Sustainable Potato Program. 
(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 improved.)

Provido is a Department of Agriculture (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).

Sowing better seeds and practices

First initiated in 2018 to complement DA’s High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), the Sustainable Potato Program provides farmers access to quality potato seeds, training, research, and development. 

With the help of the initiative, farmers have reported increased harvests since, with data from DA Region XI HVCDP office showing that current harvests range from 10 to 15 kilos per 1 kilo of seeds, up to five times more compared to 3 kilos in the past. 

URC collaborated with Prince Edwards Island (PEI) Potato Board to conduct 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.

In addition to training farmers, the food company in 2020 donated 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.

Reaping the benefits

“Yung binigay na seeds, talagang magaganda [at] nakakatulong sa amin. Dati, mababa ‘yung yield namin. Ngayon maganda na at talagang kumita [ang] farmers namin dahil sa price namin [P30 to P35 per kilo]. Ngayong pandemic, nakapaglabas kami ng mahigit isang milyong kilo ng patatas dahil sa tulong ng programang ito,” related Ardan Copas, a farmer in Benguet and a member of the United Potato Cooperative, one of the associations of farmers supported by the Sustainable Potato Program.

(The seeds we received were really good and have helped us a lot. Before, our yield was lower, but now, it’s been abundant and our farmers have earned more because of our P30 to P35 per kilo selling price. During the pandemic, we were able to release over 1 million kilos of potatoes thanks to this program.)

Meanwhile, Gabriel Bandao, a farmer in Bukidnon and head of the Imbayao Community Participatory Action Research Association (ICPARA), shared, “100 percent ng farmers dito sa Imbayao [ang] natulungan nito. Kaya lubos ang pasasalamat namin sa URC. Dahil sa kanila, umangat yung pagtatanim namin ng patatas, pati na rin ang aming kabuhayan.”

(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.)

During last year’s harvest, the farmers from Bukidnon were able to sell almost 10,000 kilos of potatoes at an average price of P65 to 70 per kilo. 

These opportunities, they said, 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 come from urban areas including Metro Manila and Davao City.

“Talagang natulungan ‘yung mga farmers nitong pandemic dahil sa pagtatanim namin ng patatas (Potato farming has really helped farmers during the pandemic),” enthused Copas. 

Also contributing to the continuous bountiful harvests is the sustainability aspect of the program. According to Copas, 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,” said David Lim, URC’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer.

The Sustainable Potato Program is part of company’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 of corporate development and external affairs “This includes responsible sourcing, production, consumption, and developing the capabilities of communities for better livelihood.”

Topics: Potatoes , Sustainable Potato Program , Universal Robina Corporation , COVID-19 pandemic
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