By Jewel S. Cabrera and Rosemarie A. De Castro
For Heathel Loren Layaoen, former researcher turned farmer-entrepreneur, farming is not just “farming” but is something worth pursuing.
“We want to promote that farming is not equivalent to a poor life. Malaki ang potensyal niya. [It has lots of potential.]” he said.
Layaoen is a 29-year-old resident of Los Baños, Laguna. He finished BS Agricultural Engineering at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). He worked as a Sales Engineer in the grain processing industry before working as a Test Engineer for agricultural machines at Agricultural Machinery Testing and Evaluation Center (AMTEC) administered by the College of of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology (CEAT), UPLB. He also worked as a Junior Specialist in Data Administration and Instrumentation at International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Working in the agricultural machinery industry and in IRRI as a researcher, Layaoen’s interest in farming sparked. This growing engrossment has motivated him to develop and cultivate the rice land owned by the grandparents of his wife in Calauan and Victoria, Laguna. This later on helped him and his wife to decide on putting up a small retail store in Los Baños with the concept of ‘farm to market’ goods.
Currently, aside from these ventures, he is also a part time consultant and subsequently running and operating their business which also participates in the Saturday market at UPLB.
On Helping farmers and promoting agriculture
Agriculture promotes jobs and provides cash crops and goods for export. It benefits the economy in general, while producing food for our fellow countrymen.
Wanting to disprove that the Philippines can not have enough rice supply, Layaoen decided to share his knowledge about farming to the farmers of Calauan and Victoria. He believed that the problem was with the people involved in the rice industry – that the farmers lacked the right attitude towards efficient rice production; lack of will by some leaders in the proper implementation of national government policies, proper distribution of funds and effective dissemination of technology; and “profiteering” by some businesses and other private entities.
According to him, when he and his wife first planted hybrid seeds in Calauan, people would often laugh at them. Simply because that is not the usual practice of those farmers in planting rice. It was new to them. But as months passed and the rice grew greener, the farmers started asking questions. That was his chance to share the knowledge he has acquired from the years of training in the university and through his hands-on experience.
At first, he thought that the problems lie on the lack of technology and information transfer. Later on, he realized that the problem is also with the older generations of farmers who are reluctant on accepting the new technologies being introduced to them. When he talked to the younger farmers, they are more open-minded and willing to adapt what he shares along with the possible changes brought by newer technologies.
With the decline on the number of young farmers and students enrolling on agricultural courses due to the preference of the present generation to work in the industrial sector rather than the latter, Layaoen wants to specifically promote agriculture to the youth. Drawing from his experiences, his goal is to encourage the young generation to look at Agriculture as a noble and interesting field that holds a never-ending potential in research and business alike.
Knowing the need for further research, they opened their farm to students and research institutions for free whether it be writing scientific papers or thesis. They are currently collaborating with UPLB – University of California Berkeley project partnership in rice research.
On Rice Tariffication Law
Layaoen has helped a lot of farmers and researchers since they started this cause. However, since they are also farmers, he can’t help but to share his fears and thoughts about a newly established law which can possibly affect them and other farmers as well. This is the Republic Act No. 11203 or also known as Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).
RTL as stated on its Section 2, indicates the lifting of restrictions on importing of rice in order to ensure food security in the country. Thus, rice importers will be slapped by tariffs. This law also creates the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund which is expected to support and give assistance to the local farmers.
“I think RTL is a double edged sword, as far as I and other technical farmers are concerned,” he said. “It can either be a big threat sa [to the] farmers or a chance for farmers to boost their production efficiency and capacity. It will depend on how you look at it.”
One of the possible effects of the law is that it will force farmers to adapt and plant high quality seeds and high-value varieties for them to earn more and at least have a change at competing with the imported rice. Planting these seeds may mean an increase in production cost, but it also entails more profit for the farmers
Being dependent on imported rice is a problem that he sees in the future. Considering the declining number of farmers in the country, he fears what will happen to us if the countries we import rice from decided to pull out the supply due to unforeseen circumstances.
On the brighter side, more people especially the poor would be able to buy rice. This is one of the goals of RTL—to lower the prices of rice. Based on their experience as rice retailers, they observed that many of the residents of Los Banos prefer organic and local varieties compared to the imported ones. If the prices of local rice decrease, it would encourage more residents of Los Banos to patronize the local products more.
“The seeds are being provided for free sa farmers. So, what’s the problem? I think it’s with the implementation of the laws and rules.”
While it is good that the government provides free seeds and some support on fertilizer to the farmers, the question is, do these seeds really reach the farmers? Layaoen suggests that if the free seeds and fertilizers would be effectively and efficiently distributed to the farmers, it would significantly help the farmers by lowering their production cost.
Layaoen also sees the proper implementation of mechanization programs as another possible solution. With proper execution of farm mechanization programs in local communities according to him, it will boost farmers’ productivity and further improve their income. More technical people are needed to ensure the proper and optimized operation of the machines being used in the field. Since they will be incurring lesser cost on labor in crop production, this will entail lesser investment which can ultimately lead to decrease in the prices of local rice while providing a good income to the farmers.
Irrigation programs of the government exist but there are problems when it comes to the access and use of it. He shared that in the case of their farm in Victoria, they use diesel pumps to irrigate the land. Other irrigation facilities are being used to serve a different purpose like fish ponds, rather than rice farms. He also stated that the irrigation canals are even drier than the farm itself.
Another case is the acquisition of rice from the farmers. National Food Authority (NFA) buys the rice at a significantly cheaper price than traders. If a farmer is to choose between selling the yield to NFA or to the traders, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the farmer would sell it to whom he can gain more income. According to him, this was one of the reasons why NFA always had poor to very poor rice on stock in the previous years.
Hoarding rice to decrease supply when the prices are low is also a problem. Hoarders release the rice only when the prices are up again. Then, holding it again when the prices are low. Removing these people from the picture would help a lot in bringing the right balance of “fairness” on both consumers and producers.
“If the national government has the will and the honesty na gawin lahat ng rules nila at ma-implement properly, everything’s good.”
For questions and further information, you can inquire at their physical store named HeaGer’s Hut Agricultural Products Trading located at Lopez Avenue, Los Baños and you may also look for their stall at the UPLB Saturday Market (often located near Baker Hall, inside the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus).