Monday, February 27, 2012

Hybrid squash seeds as after-crop with corn offers strong income promise to farmers in East West Seeds partnership

The production of hybrid squash seeds as crop after corn offers a strong promise for farmers to enjoy a higher income as proven in Cagayan by a partnership of the East West Seeds Corp. (EWSC) with the government.
   A substantial increase in revenue of as much as 10 to 14 times has been shown possible in a squash after corn cropping in Cagayan from their corn after corn cropping under a program of the EWSC, Philippines’ biggest hybrid vegetable seed producer, with the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR).
   It was co-implemented with the National Agricultural and Fisheries Council (NAFC) and co-funded by the Japanese government’s KR2 program.  It employed the technical expertise of the Farmers’ Community Development Foundation (FCDF).
   Farmers in Sto. Nino, Cagayan  may be among the country’s poorest farmers with their traditional monocropping—whether planting corn after the first corn cropping  season in a year or rice after rice.
   Monocrop of corn is planted in the flood plain areas of Sto. Nino in May-August and December-March.  The rainfed lowland areas are planted to rice in July-October, but the areas are vacant for the rest of the year. Whether corn-corn or rice-rice, that gives them a net income of just around P5,000 per hectare.   
   But the growing of hybrid squash seeds after corn becames an important livelihood enhancer for these farmers.  It sends their net income to P50,000 to P70,000 in a period of four months.
   “Many farmers have expressed their interest in adopting the new cropping pattern and intend to expand their areas for squash planting.  Their endeavor could be sustained since they have the needed technology and a systems support for credit and marketing,” said Dr. Ponciano A. Batugal, FCDF project leader.
   Even a simple change in cropping pattern can significantly improve lives of farmers in difficult areas such as the river-flooded plains here along the Chico River.
   “We need to explore new techniques such as a change in cropping pattern for farmers which may improve their income in a life-changing way.  It may not require a very big capital, but it requires us to teach farmers how to do it,” said Dr. Nicomedes P. Eleazar, BAR director.
   The program introduced the planting of squash after corn to 117 farmers tilling 50 hectares of river-flooded land in nine barangays in Sto. Nino. The farmers were taught to use the recommended parental lines in order to produce the superior hybrid squash seeds. 
   They were taught the hand pollination technique where farmers simply shake between 7 to 10 a.m. everyday for 21 to 30 days the plants in order to manually marry or assist pollination between the male and female plants.  
   Upon harvest, the seeds are extracted, cleaned, and dried for three days until moisture content is just at 18 percent.
   The farmers in the study achieved an average yield of 121 squash seeds per hectare.  At a price of P500 per kilo as guaranteed by the government program, farmers can have a potential gross income of P605,000 per hectare,
   Hybrid squash seed production faces good market prospects as squash is not just a household vegetable now used in traditional Filipino dishes like the famous pinakbet. 
   Processing has given so much added value to this vitamins and minerals-rich crop that is now being canned and processed into noodles. Its roasted seed is enjoyed as a snack food. Squash is also used in soups and pies in hotels and restaurants.
   The country’s growing population has recognized the Vitamin A-rich content in squash , causing it to find its way to the consumers’ table even among those that used to hate vegetable. And not just the fruits, even the squash flowers are found to contain lutein, a plant phytochemical that prevents cataracts.
   In order to further raise production of squash seeds among farmers in Sto Nino, there should be more support for organizing community-based farming groups at the local government level; more training for farmers; and provision of capital for inputs and post harvest and processing facilities.
   The program involved 10 farmer-cooperators.   EWSC provided the male and female parent seeds for use in a 1.75-hectare demonstration farm that was put up in Brgy. Centro Norte, one of the eight project sites of the program.
   “The good thing about the hybrid varieties of squash is that even small-scale farmers can obtain big income from their small farms, Farmers are getting interested in planting hybrid seeds not only because yields are high, but they can also  fetch a good price for seeds in the market,” reported BAR.
   FCDF is establishing more farmers’ organizations as the program is considered one of 13 high potential KR2-funded projects.
   Squash was the fourth biggest vegetable crop grown in the country at 9.9 percent of total production of 5.8 million metric tons (MT) according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) as of 2008.
   A World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) study indicated that the Philippines in general is still largely dependent on vegetable import at a $89.2 million import for 146,960 MT (provisional) for 2005.  On the other hand, export was only at $25.2 million for 38,330 MT for the same period.
   The development of the seed industry is deemed as key to raising the country’s vegetable production.  However, most seed producers are still largely headquartered in other countries, although such tie-ups also have the advantage of technology transfer for Philippines.
   “The seed industry in the Philippines is a key sector for the expansion and
development of the vegetable industry,” said the AVRDC.  “Lack of skills and knowledge about vegetable production, handling, and marketing are more significant constraints to industry development in the Philippines than in other countries in the region.”

For request for interview, please call Ms. Zeny Sison, 0919-979-1629.

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