FOR the past 40 years, Ramon Drilon grows only corn and coconut in his farm located in the farthest village of Kitubod in Libungan, North Cotabato.
As much as he wanted to, Drilon and his fellow farmers could not plant other crops such as banana because of the length of time it would take to transport farm produce to the nearest market and the prohibitive cost it would entail due to horrible road conditions.
“The muddy and bumpy road would take us at least two days to bring our products to the market. So why grow other crops such as banana if it would only be damaged during transport?” said the 75-year-old Drion, who is also the village chief.
Now, Drilon is expanding his farm and growing a hectare of lakatan banana.
He is also looking forward to additional income that would be raised from his nine-month-old banana farm.
Like him, other farmers in the village have also turned their idle lands into banana farms.
The sudden interest to expand to banana production was due to the newly rehabilitated 13.7-kilometer long farm-to-market road (FMR) that significantly eased the transport of their farm produce.
Rehabilitation of the FMR was completed under the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP).
“Because of the new FMR, travel time has dramatically been reduced from two days to less than an hour now. Hauling cost was also reduced from P1.20 per kilo to only 90 centavos,” he said.
In neighboring Kapayawi village, corn farmers have also expanded their production from one bag (19 kilos) to four bags of corn seeds since the construction of the FMR.
“Farmers expanded their production as the better road can now easily transport their products and greatly reduce their losses,” said village chief Leonardo Bara.
Bara said the barangay government used to impose a policy that after a heavy rain, no vehicle would be allowed to pass through the muddy road to avoid further damage.
This policy affected farmers as it caused delay in the delivery of their products.
Due to the longer delivery time, the quality of their products also dropped, resulting to lower sales and income.
“Since the road has been improved and most of the parts have been concreted, we no longer impose such policy. Vehicles are allowed to pass through anytime even during rainy season,” Bara said.
Because of the FMR, he said single-motorcycle or habal-habal fare has been reduced by half—rom P100 to only P50 per head— while hauling fee of farm produce has been lessened from P1.50 to only 50 centavos per kilo.
Aside from bringing benefits to farmers, the rehabilitated FMR has also improved the delivery of basic services such as education and health care.
Drilon said that before the rehabilitation of the FMR, school classrooms in their village were mostly made of wooden materials due to the difficulty of transporting concrete construction materials.
Residents also had difficulty in bringing their patients to the doctor of hospital, he added.
“With a much improved road access, the situation will now change for the better,” Drilon said with renewed optimism.
Meanwhile, Bara said the road from MRDP has also eased the schooling of children, as they no longer have to hike up to 12 kilometers just to reach the school.
“With motorcycles now plying in the Kapayawi-Kitubod route, the number of school dropouts has significantly been reduced,” he noted.
In the meantime, the bridge component of the project connects both barangays to the adjacent town of Banisilan where farmers and residents from both areas could now easily transport and sell their farm produce.
To ensure regular maintenance of the FMR, Bara and Drilon, as village chairs, have already issued local ordinances to that effect.
For MRDP, the acounts of Drilon and Bara showed how FMRs significantly contribute to rural development.
MRDP program director Lealyn Ramos said FMRs serve as the catalyst in improving Mindanao’s rural economy.
Data from MRDP Infographic revealed that the program had constructed a total of 1,000 kilometers of FMRs as of July 2014.
“FMRs are the foundation of a dynamic agriculture as they provide market access to farmers and motivate them to grow more crop and eventually increase their production and income,” Ramos said.