The Department of Agriculture (DA) reported a 5-percent to 10-percent increase in upland farming areas as a result of the Agricultural Tramline System (ATS) project, which aims to reduce postharvest losses and cost in transporting crops.
Rex Bingabing, executive director of the DA-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), said that almost 26,000 upland farmers—mostly members of tribes and indigenous peoples—have benefited from the ATS project.
Since 2009, PhilMech has established 101 tramlines in various parts of the country. Of the total number of ATS, 45 are operating in the Cordillera Administrative Region, serving farmer-beneficiaries planting high-value crops.
“Based on the assessment made by PhilMech, which was finished at the middle of this year, the ATS, as we expected, have made a positive impact on 25,950 farmer-beneficiaries, who till a total of 3,915 hectares of land,” Bingabing said.
Majority of the farmers and indigenous communities of Igorots, Mangyans, Aetas and other tribal groups that benefited from the tramlines plant high-value commercial crops.
Bartolome Tesorero and Raul Paz, the authors of the PhilMech impact assessment, said that before the establishment of the ATS, upland farming communities rely on mules or horses—which are an inefficient way of transporting farm produce and results to high postharvest losses of up to 25 percent.
The 3,915 hectares of land that the 101 existing tramlines serve is above the target of PhilMech to make the ATS program economically viable, because each tramline serves an average of 38.8 hectares of farmland.
“A minimum range of 25 to 30 hectares of farm areas is required [for an agricultural tramline]to be economically viable,” the PhilMech researchers said.
They also said that the construction and operation of an ATS also resulted in an increase of 5 percent to 10 percent in the areas being farmed by the beneficiaries.
“The increase in areas being farmed in communities served by tramlines is already remarkable, because it is very hard to find areas to expand agricultural activities in the uplands,” they said.
The PhilMech researchers also found out that an ATS improved the living conditions of the community it serves.
“The establishment of ATS improved the condition of residential houses in the highland areas, because construction materials such as cement, gravels, etc., can be easily transported,” said Tesorero and Paz in the report.
The ATS reduces the cost to transport agricultural produce to the nearest road or trading post by as much as 50 percent compared to the traditional manual hauling using horses or mules. It also takes only minutes for a tramline to transport farm produce end-to-end, while it takes hours or up to half a day using the manual hauling method.
They said that since about 70 percent of the country’s lands are in elevated grounds, there is also a need to support upland farmers, and the tramline project has proven to have a significant impact on upland farming communities.