During the discussion on mango situation in particular provinces last May 16, I was made curious about a Mindanaoan woman farmer who joined the discussion.
That farmer was Susan Austria from Brgy. San Roque, Sta. Maria, Davao del Sur. An agrarian reform beneficiary, Susan grows 50 mango trees in a half hectare of land that she and husband own under one Certificate of Land Ownership Award. In addition, the couple tends to six mango trees in their backyard.
Her status as an ARB is due to Sta. Maria farmers' struggle more than a decade ago. Her farm is part of the 146 hectares previously owned by Danding Cojuangco through his corporation called Cojuangco Investments, Inc. (CII). (Cojuangco owns massive agricultural lands in various parts of Sta. Maria).
Struggling against the Goliath
Starting in early 90s, Cojuangco has been wont to converting the originally coconut-planted Sta. Maria landholding into various others crops. And he has been able to pull strings to evade having his landholdings placed under agrarian reform.
In 1993, he decided to convert the landholding into a mango plantation. That brought the Sta. Maria's farmers to the new height of their struggle. During that year, they were forced to get out of their farms and move to the nearby lands.
That painful experience gave birth to their resolve to fight, which translated first and foremost with the formation of an association called San Roque Agrarian Beneficiaries Association (SAROCABA). The 85-strong association, according to Susan, fought like David against Goliath in the person of Cojuangco, who aside from organizational and financial power, wields political power that manifests down to the level of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) provincial office. "The DAR's legal advice to us was that we accept the negotiation terms of the Cojuangcos, one of which is that the each farmer take a half-hectare as his/her own and give a half-hectare to the landowner under the joint venture scheme. Under the joint venture scheme, the farmers are paid an exact amount of money per year (that's P5,000 per farmer per semester in the case of San Roque) whether the plantation earns or not.
Susan, 42, and husband are blessed with two children, one of whom does not want to follow in the footsteps of his parents.
At present, the joint venture agreement is being pushed by SAROCABA for revocation, so that the each half-hectare will be given to the beneficiaries.
Struggling with low income
Before the Chinese technology-enhanced farming was introduced to her household, Susan had to make do with the nil to measly income from mango production, depending on the weather conditions during the cropping season.
Susan claims that she earns a maximum gross income of P120,000 from 50 trees per on-season. But that maximum rarely takes place as she earns an average of P28,000, on or off-season.
Considering her production-related expenses, one wonders how Susan's family makes do with their situation. The expenses include cultar (P5,600 per liter), calcium nitrate (P1,150 per sack), amistar (P5,000 per liter), fungicide (P840 per kilogram), labor cost (P150/day for 5 persons), and bagging material (P50/kilo at 15 kilos)
The high cost of production is the main source of headache for Susan. It could have been higher had she and her husband not directly been involved in the production. Susan is proud to say that she is handling the sprayer machine operator while her husband does the spraying on tall mango trees.
Susan's family cannot escape from tyranny of the market influenced by big mango industry players. As a small mango grower, she cannot dictate the farmgate price for her harvest. The highest she can get is P27 per kilo and the lowest is P18.
Susan's hopes were rekindled by the training she underwent regarding the Chinese technology. She realized that pruning and grafting are important aspects of the mango production so that much more may be harvested. She also realized the benefit of using the Chinese bagging material to produce more quality fruits.
According to Susan, she was able to adopt the new technology on her six backyard mango trees. She was able to harvest 275 kilograms of quality mangoes (no blemish, relatively bigger, sweeter smell) at farmgate price of P25 per kilogram.
If her family holds on to the new technology, their average gross income from mangoes would be more than double. This is not to mention the possibility for greater income if she engages in enterprises meant to make the most of her mango yield, like mango fruit-drying and organic bagging material production.
Mango sounds masculine. In fact, there was an observation that most mango growers are men. So the tribe of Susan need to increase, for the mango industry to really develop to its fullest.