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2012 Magsaysay awardees teach farmers science and business

Two Ramon Magsaysay awardees for 2012, scientist Dr. Romulo Davide for the Philippines (leftmost); and Dr. Yang Saing Koma of Cambodia (2nd from right) recently shared in a roundtable discussion how they tried to make rice farmers of their respective countries richer through science and business. With them are PEF executive director Bobby Calingo (rightmost), and other attendees: Clara L. Davide – retired Professor (UPLB); Restie R. Male – programs manager, Partnership for Development Assistance in the Philippines Inc.; Barbara Salazar – HEKS Philippine coordinator; Rosalina Tan – president, Organic Bicol Advocateurs Network (OBAN) / chair, The Organik Coop; Bernie Berondo – manager, Global Organic and Wellness Corporation (GlowCorp); Gisela Tiongson – executive director, Jollibee Foundation; Ric Torres – programs manager, PEF; Mutya Mejia - PEF; and Anna Brillante – knowledge management specialist, PEF.

MANILA, Philippines - Two Ramon Magsaysay awardees for 2012, scientist Dr. Romulo Davide for the Philippines and Dr. Yang Saing Koma of Cambodia recently shared in a roundtable discussion how they tried to make rice farmers of their respective countries richer through science and business.

The roundtable discussion was a collaboration of the Peace and Equity Foundation and the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation held at the EchoStore in Serendra, BGC, where both scientists shared how they make farmers fully appreciate the importance of science and market access in improving their economic status and self worth.

Dr. Koma introduced his novel rice production method to Cambodian farmers using less irrigation and shallower planting that doubled Cambodia’s rice output in the last decade.

Koma founded the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC). Today, his System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is the official rice production method endorsed by his government. 

Dr. Davide, a plant pathologist, has developed pesticides that kill nematodes and the worst crop enemies and in propagating science into farming to make it more profitable.

PEF executive director Bobby Calingo said that in the Philippines, rice farmers remain poor prompting PEF to do what it can to help farmers improve productivity by linking them to the market.

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Dr. Koma said in his country a lot of farmers have lost hope in farming and migrated to the cities. “But I see a new potential in farming as a business not only for export but to replace imports,” Koma said.

CEDAC lowered the farmers’ production costs by producing their own inputs (fertilizers, seeds, etc) and teaching them to calculate and decide among themselves ways to produce more rice at lower cost and at what price to sell their products.

In Cambodia, the poor farmer buys rice. Now they have become producers and sellers of this commodity. But he laments that farmers want quick money by selling fast, even at low prices, so they have something to spend. “It is really a problem,” Dr. Koma said.  

Dr. Koma taught the farmers in a national campaign in 50 districts to invest their capital like rice mill so their produce can be processed for better income.

“We collect $50 per farmer at $5 per month. They gradually increase their savings, production and capital. There is no leakage since everything in rice from the hull to rice itself is being processed,” Koma said.

Dr. Koma launched last August a $100 million 10-year plan to transform 100,000 subsistent farmers to commercial farmers. But he said for now he could only raise $1 million.

Dr. Koma taught 200 farmers about the science of the root and how it should be treated to increase growth. The root needs oxygen and space and the farmers understand that. They test and it works. The farmers-scientists in turn teach the other farmers.

Dr. Davide, who in 1994 was awarded as Outstanding Agricultural Scientist, said Filipino farmers remain poor because they lack technology, technical support, markets and “there is so much politics “

The Cebuano scientist started experimenting on planting corn, a staple in his province, teaching the farmers the science of corn farming. He taught them to experiment with corn in different conditions (with fertilizer, without fertilizer and using organic fertilizer like manure) as well as planting hybrid and local corn varieties. Next came experimenting on plant density (one plant versus three plants), then measured their growth.

Once a week, Davide said, “we held classes where farmers reported their data on plant growth and problems encountered plus lessons on values formation, spiritual and material transformation.”

At the end of the experiments, the farmers graduated as scientist of nutrition, fertilizer, marketing and scientist of leadership. They received a certificate of participation from UP Los Banos so “farmers can feel dignified about graduating,” Dr. Davide said.

The graduates must prove they harvested three tons per hectare, otherwise they fail. They must also intercrop corn with peanuts, vegetables, fruits, etc. He uses organic fertilizer (chicken urea) with the help of Department of Science and Technology Region 7.

Upon graduating, they test the variety, fertilizer, vegetables to be intercropped, and farm animals are integrated in the farm. The graduates must train at least 20 farmers in their barangay on their new skills to make it sustainable.

After three years, Dr. Davide surveyed at least 1,000 farmers and organized them into agribusiness clubs to link them to the markets. “This is now a national program. We have farmers in Zamboanga, Cotabato, Davao, Siquijor, Bicol, Samar, Cavite and last year we started with the Mangyans.”

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