Potato farmers have found a lifeline in a project initiated by Universal Robina Corp. (URC) with the government, allowing them to thrive amid a devastating pandemic.
URC, one of the country’s largest food firms, and the Department of Agriculture agreed in 2018 to work together to provide farmers with quality potato seeds, training and research access.
Since then, potato yields from the program have grown by more than fivefold.
Sacks of potato, for distribution in Benguet.
Farmers are now able to harvest 10 to 15 kilos a year out of a kilo of seeds from just three to four kilos previously. Last year, they were able to harvest some 1,258 metric tons of potatoes.
That has helped tide them over amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted food supply chains. It also guaranteed a stable supply of potatoes for consumers.
URC has been providing imported Granola potato seeds from Canada to farming communities in Benguet, Mt Province, Bukidnon and Davao del Sur under the “Sustainable Potato Program”.
Farmers from Bukidnon showing their bountiful harvests
Last year, the company was able to donate up to 135 metric tons (MT) of Granola Elite 3 table potato seeds imported from Canada to over 1,000 farmers.
“These were really quality seeds, and have been a big help for us,” said Ardan Copas, head of the United Potato Cooperative in Benguet.
He said his group had been able to sell their potatoes for P30 to 35 a kilo.
“Despite the pandemic, we were able to produce a million kilos, thanks to this program,” he said.
Freshly harvested potatoes from Benguet, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), one of the areas supported by URC’s Sustainable Potato Program
Gabriel Bandao, head of the Imbayao Community Participatory Action Research Association, said farmers in Imbayao town, in Bukidnon, were able to sell nearly 10,000 kilos of potatoes at P65 to P70 a kilo.
“The program helped 100 percent of farmers here in Imbayao. That’s why we are very thankful to URC. They’ve helped us improve our yield and, with it, our lives,” he said.
Potato farmer preparing crates of potatoes for distribution and selling
Cooperatives participating in the program have also received quality training, as well as access to the latest research and technology on potato farming.
In 2019, a group of farmers went on a five-day course in Canada as part of URC’s collaboration with the Prince Edwards Island Potato Board.
There, they learned new techniques on seeding and planting, soil management, storage and other key practices.
“This initiative has been a win for everyone. Farmers get the resources they need to weather the pandemic. There is a boost in efforts to promote high-value crops like potato. URC, meanwhile, realizes its goals under its people- and planet-friendly strategy,” said Laurent Levan, URC’s SVP for Corporate Development & External Affairs.
Levan added that the Sustainable Potato Program is part of URC’s move towards becoming a global sustainable organization. “Our company is building its sustainability roadmap alongside the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This includes responsible sourcing, production, consumption and developing the capabilities of communities for better livelihood.”