Farm mechanization in the Philippines is nothing new and even dates back to the 1890s when agricultural machineries from Spain and United States were introduced for use in large estate operations.
In the 1940s, preferential tax treatment was given for the importation of large farm equipment for large estate operations.
It was largely from the 1970s, with the advent of the Green Revolution that aimed to increase paddy rice production, that farm mechanization shifted to small farms and gave birth to the proliferation of imported machineries and jump-started local farm machine fabrication.
While efforts to mechanize farms in the Philippines dates back to the 1890s, the country still lags behind in Asia where Japan is the leader with 7.0 horsepower per hectare, according to the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), followed by South Korea (4.11 hp/ha) and China (4.10 hp/ha). The Philippines’ level is 1.02 hp/ha and can be grouped with Vietnam (1.56 hp/ha).
The low farm mechanization level, which is an example of technology utilization, explains why farming is not very profitable in the Philippines. Even if we see some farm machines deployed in the countryside, the target users have not been sensitized on its intended use and worse, they don’t see its long-term benefit when utilized in more organized and structured small-hold farming.
Also, since most farms in the Philippines are small holdings, it is almost impossible for individual farmers to mechanize on their own, as it will displace them from traditional farm labor or lack the investment to do so. The sensitization of farmers in working as an organized entity through block farming or consolidating small farms into one productive unit is a good start for “collective action” as they can develop capabilities to acquire, manage and maintain farm machineries.
So how does mechanization make farming more efficient and profitable? A good example is the use of a mechanical transplanter where, according to PhilMech, results in 40 kilograms of seeds being used in one hectare instead of the usual 80 kgs under the manual method. A tractor-pulled rotavator can plow up to two hectares per day when a carabao-pulled plow can cover only one hectare in one day.
But since farm machines are still costly, there should be enabling mechanisms or factors to allow small farmers and even cooperatives to adopt mechanization.
The first mechanism is providing subsidies to qualified farmers or cooperatives. In providing subsidies, however, the government must avoid the “dole out” approach or to just give away machines because without the farmer or cooperative coming up with an equity contribution, the recipients will not have a sense of ownership towards the machines provided to them.
The second mechanism is providing credit for farm machinery acquisition. Although providing a lending window for that is essential, the government should also make sure that those who avail of the farm machinery loans will be trained on how to operate and maintain the equipment.
The third mechanism is to faciliate partnership through original equipment maufacturers (OEM) to allow access to improved and cost-efficient machineries and at same time facilitate the transfer of technology through strategic contractual arrangements with local manufacturers and research and development institutes.
The fourth mechanism is to adopt a “winning strategy” and develop further farm machine fabrication by providing state-of-the-art common service facilities and equipment testing centers to accredited local fabricators, so they can design, build and manufacture better equipment suited to the realities of Philippine agriculture. This is actually a prerequisite if a country wants to accelerate its farm mechanization efforts.
Of the four mechanisms, the fourth has an extensive enabling policy stipulated in the Agricultural and Fisheries Mechanization Law (AfMech, Republic Act 10601), which states that the Department of Agriculture (DA) through PhilMech push for the local fabrication of farm equipment. Specifically, Article IV Section 15 of RA 10601 states that “Production of locally-made engines and other machinery for agricultural and fisheries purposes shall be promoted and encouraged by the DA in partnership with the private sector, and through joint venture agreements.”
AfMech also mandates PhilMech to take the lead in research, development and extension (RDE) in farm mechanization. This means all government agencies and state colleges and universities must coordinate and harmonize their RDE efforts, programs and projects on farm mechanization with PhilMech.
PhilMech is currently headed by a scientist, Dr. Dioniso Alvindia,who recognized the local need of farmers by requiring the agency to factor-in the design of farm machinesbased on inputs from its intended users, which are the small farmers and cooperatives. This is a good starting point in designing locally-fabricated machines, because if the intended customer is satisfied with the technology, then product development and commercialization will commence.
PhilMech along with the Philippine Rice Research Institute, the DA regional offices, local government units and with the participation of smallholder farmers must adopt a common framework to mechanize rice farms in the country. It involves concerted effort in improving farm production and incomes, and social preparation in agriculture mechanization must take place side-by-side with technology improvements.
Lastly, agriculture modernization must be “sexy” to make farming an attractive vocation for the youth, that it be seen as a technology-savvy profession, a good investment with a commensurate return.