By Manny Piñol
Inspired by the success of a group of Dubai-based Overseas Filipino Workers who financed organic rice farmers in North Cotabato, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) is now eyeing the OFWs as financiers for poor rice farmers who need capitalisation to buy good seeds and fertilisers to increase their production.
On Friday morning, a day after the Appropriations Committee of Congress deferred deliberations on the DAF 2018 proposed budget which congressmen bewailed as “insufficient” to boost agricultural growth, I met with key officials of the department to look at other options to provide financing for the Filipino farmers and fisher folks.
The success story of Don Bosco Multi-Purpose Cooperative based in my hometown, M’lang, North Cotabato, which engaged a group of Overseas Filipino Workers based in Dubai to finance 60 hectares of organic rice farmers was considered as a model for the financing program.
In the case of Don Bosco, Dubai-based OFWs through the initiative of then labor attache Ofelia Domingo agreed to finance organic rice farmers in M’lang with an investment of P30,000 per hectare.
Don Bosco general manager Romano Laurilla said the OFWs who invested were guaranteed an income of P4,500 per harvest which would be twice a year or an income of P9,000.
Their P30,000 investment was “locked in” for two years, meaning the OFW investors could not withdraw their money until after two years or four cropping seasons.
By that time, their P30,000 investment would have earned P18,000 then they will be given an option to withdraw their investment or continue financing farmers.
The OFWs, however, were asked to handle the marketing of the organic rice produced from their financing in Dubai and the Middle East.
So far, a total of 60 hectares have been financed and the OFWs are asking for more areas.
In fact, Laurilla said, the Dubai OFWs would like to cover the whole 160 hectares of organic rice farms so they could increase their investments and income.
Already, Don Bosco has shipped 11 metric tons of well-packaged organic rice while another shipment is scheduled for September this year.
I have tasked Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano to look at the Don Bosco-Dubai OFWs agreement and come up with a scheme where other OFWs could be tapped to finance Filipino rice farmers even without the “marketing” provision.
Even at just P20,000 per hectare with a 6% interest per harvest which would be P2,400 earnings on their investments every year, I believe many of our OFWs would be willing to help.
Since the farmers who will participate in this program will be covered by crop insurance of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC), there is very little risk on the investments of the OFWs.
What I have in mind is to identify and accredit farmers associations and cooperatives in every province and ask the OFWs where they would like to invest their money in.
Just as in the Don Bosco-Dubai OFW model, a memorandum of agreement between the OFWs and the farmers association or cooperative that they will finance will have to be made.
The Overseas Filipino Workers around the world sent $26.92 billion (P1.20 trillion) back to the Philippines last year in 2014, according to the Bangkok Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
This amount does not include the informal remittances which along with the official remittances could total to about $50-B every year.
This could be a rich source of agricultural investments to finance rice and corn farmers initially and maybe later, other agricultural activities as well.