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What a difference a mill makes

Residents of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur benefit from the new rice and corn mill in their community.

MANILA, Philippines – For people passing through the village of Remedios in Esperanza, a remote town in Agusan del Sur in Mindanao, the new rice and corn mill at the center of the community looks just like any other structure. But for the 247 families living in this village, the mill is a life-changing project, a fulfillment of their dreams.

It is easy to see why.

Separated from the town proper by the flood-prone Agusan River and bad roads, residents of this poor farming village are dependent on the production of corn, rice and wood products for their sustenance and livelihood. Until a year ago, getting corn and palay properly milled was a very expensive and difficult effort, a burden which usually fell on the shoulders of women.

Residents had to take a habal-habal (motorcycle used as a mountain taxi), paying the driver P20 for every sack of grain brought to the riverbank in Hawilian. From there, they paid another P40 for every sack ferried by boatmen across the river, and then another P15 per sack to drive it to the mill in Esperanza by tricycle. Farmers also paid the habal-habal driver a fare of P15 and another P25 for the boat ride across the Agusan River.

At the mill, the farmers paid P2.20 per kilo of corn milled and P1.80 per kilo of palay. That is equivalent to P110 for every 50-kilo sack of corn and P90 for a 50-kilo sack of palay. By the time they got back to Remedios at dusk, each farmer had already spent P350-370 for every sack of grain milled – a huge sum equal to the minimum wage of a daily worker in the city – that they could have used for other needs, like food, clothing and other basic necessities.

Because of the prohibitive costs of transport and milling, many people preferred to process their own grain, using the old manually-operated mills fashioned out of heavy stone for corn, and a mortar and pestle for palay. Since the men go to the field early in the morning each day, these heavy tasks fell on the women, besides caring for the children and doing household chores. Manual milling is a labor-intensive and energy-sapping process that takes long hours.

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Since the community-owned rice mill was built, however, such problems have become a thing of the past, says Cesar Ambray, the barangay captain of Remedios who assists in the management of the mill.

A participatory situation analysis was conducted before the construction of the rice mill wherein community members of Remedios identified their problems. They eventually prioritized the need for the rice mill after which a core group of community volunteers prepared a project proposal with technical assistance from the DSWD community facilitator. The community representatives presented their proposal during the Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum (MIBF) which was participated in by all barangays. Fortunately, the rice mill proposal was among those prioritized by the MIBF for KALAHI-CIDSS funding.

The rice and corn mill cost P1.78 million to build. The Kalahi-CIDSS program implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and supported by the World Bank provided a grant of P1.25 million, with the local government and the community making their own counterpart contributions in cash and in kind.

To ensure transparent and effective management, the community of Remedios established a cooperative and a management team that regularly updates residents on the operational and financial performance of the mill.

Ambray says that the rice and corn mill has had a direct impact on the alleviation of poverty in the village. The community mill offers lower charges than the mill in town and, without having to bring the grain over long distances across the river and on dirt roads, farmers are able to save about 70 percent of what they used to spend to mill their grain.

Early projections suggested that it would take some time before the mill could break even. But a few months after it was established, the cooperative began to earn. This is because, according to Captain Ambray, farmers from three other barangays nearby began to bring their grain to Remedios for processing, thus extending the benefits of the mill to about 600 more households.

This article is based on materials pubished by the World Bank Philippines in www.worldbank.org.ph and is used with permission.

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