By Ali G. Macabalang
KIDAPAWAN CITY – Four Talaandig tribal towns in Bukidnon are in dire need of ample national government support to optimize production and feed large parts of the country from their immense vegetable farming for years, according to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
MinDA Chairman Manny F. Piñol highlighted the plight of tribal vegetable farmers in Impasugong, Talakag, Sumilao and Lantapan comprising what is now called “ImTaSuLa complex” in Bukidnon during his visit to the area last week.
Sec. Piñol produced a video clip showing parts of the complex’s 50,000-hectare farms for cabbage, broccoli, carrots and potatoes, and his interview with Ryan Danio, a tribal farmer leading vegetable farmers in Miarayon, Talakag.
The interview was recorded at the foreground of Danio family’s vegetable farm, and one of farm tractors awarded to the community by the Department of Agriculture months after Piñol, then a DA secretary, visited Talakag in 2018 when vegetable supply shortage hit Metro Manila.
Sec. Piñol recalled taking a trip from Metro Manila where veggies` market prices “hiked to 300% percent following a typhoon” to pursue information that vegetables in Bukidon were abundant and sold at very low prices. Carrots were sold then in the metropolis at P300 per kilo, he said.
“I was then Secretary of Agriculture and the need to stabilize the vegetable prices was urgent so I flew to Cagayan de Oro City and drove to the mountainous area of Bukidnon where I saw for myself the vast vegetable production area owned mostly by the Talaandig tribe,” he narrated.
After the trip, he said, he “launched the TienDA Project” in Metro Manila and brought in tons of veggies along with farmer-producers, who sold carrots at P80 a kilo and other vegetables priced three times lower than those in the capital region. The project stabilized vegetable prices in the metropolis, he said.
“The farmers grew all kind of vegetables but their problem was their access to the market,” Piñol recalled as telling DA people in a meeting, which reportedly led to crafting of mechanisms linking Bukidnon to buyers in Metro Manila.
Impressed of the farmers’ support, he said, he returned to Bukidnon many times, met the mayors of Impasugong, Talakag, Sumilao and Lantapan, and formed the “ImTaSuLa Complex” to sustain the 50,000-hectare veggie farms.
He said the visits prompted the opening of the DA’s Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) loan facility to the four-town corridor alongside the DA dispersal of farm equipment and work animals to member-farmers.
Full implementation of a DA comprehensive plan for the Bukidnon vegetable production had reportedly ceased after Piñol resigned as department secretary in protest against the enactment of the Rice Tarrfication Law, which farmers nowadays berate as “anti-peasants” edict.
“(But) shortly before I left the DA, the Universal Robina Corporation (URC) of the Gokongwei Family started a potato production project in at least three areas of the country, including the ImTaSuLa complex. URC bought potato seeds from Canada and gave these out for farmers’ groups to grow in support of DA’s production program,” Piñol said.
In his last week’s visit to Bukidnon as MinDA chair, Piñol urged the national government to “sustain its efforts to help the (Bukidnon) farmers because the productivity of Filipino farmers will depend greatly on profitability.”
The ImTaSuLa complex “could produce enough high value vegetables not only for the whole country but also for the rest of the countries in the East Asean region,” he added.
Piñol said he would return to the tribal community within this month “with a possible investor whom I will convince to set up a vegetable buying station and packing plant.”
“What I envision is a program which would readily absorb the farmers’ produce at a fair price, pack the vegetables and distribute these across Mindanao and perhaps in nearby Visayas areas in a sustainable supply chain,” he said.
In related news, MinDA Public Affairs and Communications Division Chief Adrian Tamayo said Sec. Pinol has linked up with authorities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) for constituent-farmers to grow vegetables alongside other agricultural plants to earn additional income.
Tamayo said Pinol’s stride was heeded initially by officials of Pagalungan town by hosting a “vegetable derby” where farmers across Maguindanao would undergo four-month training on new veggies farming technologies, apply earned skills in the field, and showcase their harvests in November for rating to receive various awards. (AGM)