I’m in the middle of writing a story about a young man who, for no reason other than he saw a need and found a possible solution, raised funds to build a flatbed dryer to service rice farmers in his girlfriend’s hometown of Lopez, Quezon.
Jose Diego Roxas, 26, is the Spokesperson of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI). When he was in college, he chanced upon a social media post of Ilocos farmers staring at their spoiled rice harvest, which they had laid out on the highway to dry, but instead had gotten soaked in the rain. He asked his girlfriend, who comes from a rice farming community, if this was a problem they encountered, and she said yes. He took this as a challenge and did some research. He found that commercially available flatbed dryers cost around 400,000 pesos, which was way beyond anyone’s budget, even if they were to raise funds for it. “It would be a very uphill battle to raise such an amount,” he said in Taglish.
He stumbled on literature from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that outlined a blueprint for building a flatbed dryer from scratch using low cost, readily available materials. Building it would cost around 20,000 pesos, 30,000 pesos if you include R&D expenses.
He pitched the project, which he called Project Payo, to friends, relatives, and his girlfriend’s family. They were interested, but didn’t want to invest in anything unless they were sure it would work. Eventually, they decided to split the cost—he would raise funds for the materials and his girlfriend’s family would cover the cost of labor.
Roxas managed to raise the money through donations, and they had the machine prefabricated, using electricity instead of the recommended LPG to run it. They were worried about its slow drying rate at first, until a friend introduced them to an LPG manufacturer, who offered to sponsor a tank that they could use to experiment on. Because of this, they were able to adjust their specifications, “And that’s when it took off,” Roxas said. “It performed as expected according to our needs.”
The dryer came in handy during the next rainy season, when many farmers lined up to use the dryer. The demand was so big, they weren’t able to service all of them. “We were able to service about a hundred or hundred sixty sacks, but not all,” he shared.
A dealer expressed regret at not asking to have one built as well. Roxas said he was free to copy the Project Payo dryer. “I don’t own the patent, I don’t own the design, it’s a free design,” he said. Roxas counts the project a success because “the farmers accepted it because it’s low cost and [using it] is not heavy on the pocket for them.”
This is only one story that I’ve encountered where the subject used available, free local sources as the backbone to a successful agricultural project.
Another one would be Lionheart Farms (LF) in Rizal, Palawan. LF grows and works with Indigenous Peoples in the area to grow coconut trees, whose harvests are turned into different products that are mostly sold overseas.
When LF co-founder and President Christian Eyde Moeller was looking for up-to-date research and literature on coconut cultivation practices, they realized that they didn’t need to go further than the Philippine Coconut Authority. “We quite quickly found out that all we had to do was simply look at established research and all the answers were there already,” Moeller said in the article. “What we have done is adaptive science. You take existing established science research that’s available and you modify it and adapt it to the specific situation.”
Because of red tape, perpetual lack of funding, and other systematic ills experienced by many of our institutions, not to mention good old colonial mentality that pervades almost, if not all sectors of Philippine society, there is a tendency to think of foreign research, development, and products as better than those found in the Philippines. These two examples show that this is not always the case, particularly in relation to subjects related to common experiences in the Philippines.
May these two anecdotes remind us that as tempting and cool as it is to pick what’s new, expensive, flashy, and foreign, it is more prudent, and if done properly, more efficient and appropriate, to look for research and resources locally. Our many educational and research institutions have numerous published works that cater specifically to Philippine conditions. It may not seem as sexy as using a foreign study or brand spanking new technology, but it’s more likely to already fit local needs and solve local problems.
Let’s stop thinking that foreign or high tech is better than local and low cost and start looking at what our own agricultural institutions have to offer. As these two examples show, sometimes, the best answer can be found right in our own backyard.