Last September 2017, LUCID project North Coordinator Stéphane Leyens and South Coordinator Andres Ignacio conducted a site reconnaissance visit to Iloilo Province, one of the three focus areas of the LUCID project where corn is a major crop. Iloilo is the top corn producing province in the Visayas Islands in the Central Philippines. The team initially paid a courtesy visit to the Provincial Agriculturist, Dr. Ildefonso Toledo who entertained the team with their questions regarding the state of the corn industry in Iloilo, particularly the situation of the smallholder farmers engaged in corn cultivation.
Dr. Toledo shared that indeed corn farmers in the province are faced with major challenges in the cultivation of corn, particularly those with very small land holdings. He said that it is a social problem in the province in that the cash economy has shifted the focus of farming from subsistence and food security. This is why, according to him, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has started offering soft, collateral-free loans to farmers through the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).
He likewise recognized the environmental cost of excessive corn cultivation in the uplands which is primarily manifested through erosion and sedimentation. For this reason, the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and the DA have partnered in the Sustainable Corn Production in Sloping Areas (SCoPSA) Program that aims to train farmers in contour farming and other methods to control erosion in the corn-cultivated uplands.
The team then went to Barangay San Nicolas in the municipality of San Dionisio assisted locally by the Magsasaka at SIyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng AGrikultura (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development) or MASIPAG. MASIPAG has a Research and Ecological Farm in Sitio Tambolon in San Nicolas which is managed by Dennis Omison. Through the assistance of Mr. Omison a group of corn farmers in the barangay was gathered for a focus group discussion on their experiences in planting corn in their area, particularly in relation to how things have changed in the recent years and their current socio-economic conditions as corn farmers.
It normally costs Php40,000 (€666) to plant one hectare of GMO corn according to the farmers. Since this is too hefty an investment for smallholder farmers, they normally resort to financing from traders who charge an average of 5% per month. The farmers lament that their crops are at always at risk due to typhoons, drought, and fungal infections and when these happen they have to shoulder all the losses which translate to debt to the financiers. Although interest rates for corn financing are lower compared to Bukidnon, the farmers still find it difficult to earn a profit from corn farming. One common observation though is that it is the only upland crop that provides available financing through private traders, although at high-interest rates.