A challenge to PhilMech
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2019 - 12:00am

One of our readers who wishes to remain anonymous, but describes himself as “a very concerned agricultural engineer” of the Agricultural Machinery Testing Center at the UP Los Banos in Laguna, sent an interesting package containing a letter and some documents.

We’re sharing the letter and my commentary on the other materials included in the pack. Please read on.

“I am an avid reader of your column. Your write-ups are a good source of knowledge about our agricultural economy. They provide sensible perspectives that I wish government policy makers would take notice and heed.

“I was one of those who were gladdened by your optimistic Aug. 15 write-up about Secretary William Dar. Like you, I would like him to succeed. But some people under him seem bent on sabotaging his programs. Kasi daw po, Acting Secretary pa lang naman siya. Baka hindi rin magtagal.

“Enclosed are some documents a former colleague, who now works in PhilMech in Muñoz, gave me.

“PhilMech is the lead agency in the mechanization program (MP). PhilMech’s top officials are bullish in spending the huge MP budget. In fact, per the documents, they are scheduled to open bids for the procurement of farm machinery worth about P1.6 billion. It will be held on Nov. 14 in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija at 9:00 a.m.

Technologically updated machineries

“Secretary Dar, on several occasions, has openly declared that he wants the machines DA (Department of Agriculture) will distribute to be technologically up to date. Specifically, he mentioned that the tractors should be GPS (global positioning satellite) enabled.

“He repeated this preference in his column in the Manila Times on Oct. 17. He knows only too well the importance of being able to monitor and account for all the machines that will be given out.

“There are now tractors in the market that have built-in GPS capability. As such, they can be monitored, even through smart phones. The tractor itself sends off data, thus the data cannot be tampered with.

Tracking real time

“Imagine, the DA officials, through their central monitoring office, being able to track down in real time the thousand tractors na ipamimigay ng DA. The GPS technology will relay the data on the machine’s actual location, kung ginagamit ba o hindi, at gaano kalaki ang natapos sa maghapon.

“Nakakapagtataka po na yung particular spec na gusto ni Sec. Dar is not included in the list of specifications. Wala pong nakasulat na GPS-enabled whatsoever.

“There are two speculations that are circulating around. One, those top officials of PhilWed at present are not Willy Dar loyalists. They are more loyal to [former DA Secretary] Manny Piñol who appointed them.

“Two, the brand K…a, na siyang paborito ng mga taga PhilMech dahil ‘mahusay mag-alaga’ won’t be able to bid competitively because their tractors are not yet GPS-capable. Get the picture?

“Please do something. Your column is widely read. Your comments carry weight. They are noted down by important politicians, including Sen. Cynthia Villar. Let us join forces and support Sec. Dar para naman po maging meaningful at long last ang isang very important program ng ating gobyerno.”

Commentary

Previous Philippine efforts towards introducing mechanization in rice farms have been met with little success given the currently still low rate of 1.2 hectares per hectare, according to a DA study, compared with China’s (4.4 hp/ha) or South Korea’s (4.11 hp/ha).

While there has been no conclusive study made in the Philippines that points to a correlation between higher mechanization and increased harvest in rice fields, the experience of countries like Thailand and Vietnam have shown that extensive use of machines can significantly bring down the cost of rice production.

Based solely on these two observations, the newly passed Rice Tarrification Act’s funding bias towards mechanization would seem to be justified. Giving away farm equipment worth P5 billion every year for the next six years should certainly solve the long-standing problem of farmers not being able to afford expensive tools for their farms.

We should see improvements in rice land productivity in the coming years if the DA is successful in introducing all the right technology interventions for tilling, seeding, harvesting, and post-harvest production to the selected and organized rice farm cooperatives.

However, small individual rice farmers — which comprise a sizeable percentage — need to be organized into groups to solve their problem of having small-sized and irregularly shaped paddy field plots that impede the adoption of productivity-enhancing farm equipment.

Rebid option

Going back to the letter that our sender sent, the introduction of new technologies like GPS certainly deserves to be supported at all cost. While the date for the bidding was presumably concluded last Thursday, it is not too late to call for a rebid that would include improved specifications on the agricultural machineries.

The integration of such advanced technologies must be implemented, if the Philippines is truly keen to forge ahead of its competitors like Thailand and Vietnam, which are likely already adopting the new interventions in their farms.

In the documents that our reader included in the package, the equipment that was bid out involved 356 units of rice combine harvesters, 495 units of four-wheel tractors, and 224 units of mechanical transplanters, with a total cost of P1.646 billion.

PhilMech may need to tweak its calculations to reflect new and improved specifications for acquiring smarter farming equipment. Let’s hope that the agency will properly respond to such challenges to ensure that the billions of duties collected from rice import tariffs will not go to waste.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

CHALLENGE PHILMECH PHILMECH
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