The country’s corn industry is confronted with many problems. Corn farmers are having hard time in marketing their produce because of their failure in meeting the 14 percent moisture content (MC) requirement of dried corn. The lack of available postharvest facilities suitable to their needs is one reason.
This is a common scenario in corn producing areas like Ilocos Sur. Farmers are helpless in minimizing their losses, until a multi-million state-of-the-art corn postharvest processing and trading center (CPHPTC) was built in Bulag East, Bantay, Ilocos Sur in 2009. Thanks to the National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR) of the Department of Agriculture.
Since corn is the second most important crop in the Philippines, the establishment of CPHPTC in the country is among the priority projects of the Department of Agriculture (DA). The center aims to ensure market of corn farmer’s produce, guarantee supply of quality corn, and reduce corn processing costs.
The 200 metric tonner two-stage drying system is retrofitted with three biomass furnaces where corn cobs serve as fuel. The first furnace supplies heat for the corn cob dryer while the two other furnaces are being used by the grain dryer. Two hundred sacks of corn cobs which are waste material from the shelling operation are consumed per whole drying operation.
From freshly picked corn ear, operation lasts at an average of 44 hours. It includes 38 hour two-stage drying operation and six hour shelling operation.
The center buys from farmers the corn on cobs (CoCs) at 30 percent moisture content and these will be subjected for drying to reduce the MC to 20 percent. Shelling operation and the second stage of drying will follow to reduce the MC level to 14 percent. Aside from trading, other major activities such as provision of technical assistance, seeds and fertilizer, and promotion of good agricultural practices to corn farmers are being done.
During the establishment of the 2,000 sq. meter corn postharvest processing and trading center in Ilocandia, a technical assistance from the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) through Dr. Manolito C. Bulaong, Director I of Research and Development (R&D) was provided.
“Dr. Bulaong assisted NABCOR in conceptualizing warehouse design, choice of dryers and furnaces. He also shared knowledge and techniques on the operations of the center more particularly in drying and shelling processes”, said Ferdinand P. Matro, 52, manager of the center.
Intensive information campaign
It took a lot of patience to encourage the farmers to adopt new systems. This was attested by Manager Matro during the first year of the operation of the CPHPTC. “Napakahirap i-convince ng mga farmers. Hindi nila agad kinagat yung technology. Ayaw nilang paawat sa mga practices nila (Farmers are very difficult to convince. They did not adopt the technology easily. They don’t want to change their existing practices)”, Manager Matro declared.
“But acceptability is a process. Hindi ‘yan binibigla (It is not abrupt)”, he added. Little by little, Matro and his team encouraged the corn farmers in the area to have business transactions at the center. They conducted an intensive information campaign around the province. “Nagpa-meeting kami sa mga barangay. Ipinakilala namin ang opisina, programa at sistema (We conducted meetings in the barangays. We introduced our office, the program and the system). We explained to them the cost and return analysis”, he recalled.
The team did not stop there. “Kinuha namin ang mga contact numbers ng mga farmers para patuloy na manghikayat na tangkilikin ang programa. Nag house-to-house visit kami… nakipamuhay kami sa kanila para makuha ang tiwala nila (We got the contact numbers of the farmers to continuously persuade them to patronize the program. We had house-to-house visits… we live with them to get their trust)”, he added.
Since he is a Pangasinense, he experienced language barrier in communicating with his constituents. Thus, he studied speaking iloko first before going to the battlefield. “Pinag-aralan kong magsalita ng malalim na Iloko. Dahil kapag hindi ka taga-rito at hindi ka marunong mag Iloko, hindi magiging komportable sayo ang mga farmers (I studied speaking Iloko. Because if you are not from here and you do not know how to speak Iloko, farmers will not be comfortable with you)”, Matro shared.
Patience bears sweet fruit
Though the team had a bitter start, their patience finally bore sweet fruits in 2011 when the operations of the center became stable. The processing and trading center recorded a total of almost 2M kg (1, 907, 243.57) procured corn on cob from January to December 2011. It has an equivalent total amount of P11, 202, 511.94 in an average buying price of 5.87, with 215 farmers served majority of whom are coming from Bantay, Sto. Domingo, San Juan, Vigan City and Caoayan. At present, 500 farmers from 1st and 2nd district of Ilocos Sur, and some part in Abra are directly benefitting from the center.
Processed corn grains are marketed in private feed processors in Pangasinan and Bulacan.
It was on the same year when positive feedbacks from the farmers started to be heard. “Masaya na ang mga farmers ngayon. Hindi na sila masyadong pagod dahil dadalhin lang nila dito sa center ang harvest nila, paglabas nila ay may pera na sila (Farmers are happy now. They are not too stressed because they just have to bring their produce in the center and afterwards they already have money)”, Matro said.
Ferdinand Matro is hoping that the operation of the center will continuously expand. He mentioned that today, the center has only P2M working capital but he is aiming for P4M capital to make the operations in the center really successful.
The corn postharvest processing and trading center in Ilocandia may be young but its impact to the corn farmers in the area is already recognizable. Through the CPHPTC, the 10 to 12 percent postharvest losses are being saved, grains produced have better quality, and postharvest operations are a lot easier.
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