Tarlac cooperative turns misfortune into blessings through S&T and hard work

The town of Ablang-Sapang, Moncada, Tarlac City has been an agricultural community, growing crops such as sweetpotato, corn, rice, turnips, and vegetables. However, in 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted, affecting the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales. Farmers were devastated to find their crops buried in lahar.

 Engr. Cesar L. Tabago, chief executive officer of Sapang Primary Multipurpose Cooperative (PMPC) said that this was unfortunate as the residents of Moncada, Tarlac rely on planting sweetpotato and other crops for their livelihood.

Three years after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, the lahar that buried their crops became a blessing to Tarlac’s farmers. According to the Tarlac College of Agriculture (TCA) Director for Research and Development Dr. Lilibeth Laranang, lahar mixed with the soil in the field made it sandy, the type of soil suitable for growing sweetpotato. The farm soil in Tarlac, according to Tabago, gave way to making the province as the largest commercial producer of sweetpotato in the country, with 5,600 hectares of field planted with the crop.

Tabago said that Sapang PMPC earns its revenues from fresh sweetpotato and dried sweetpotato chips. During harvesting, fresh sweetpotato gives them earnings of P325,000 from 250 sacks or 25 metric tons of sweetpotato in their more than 2,000-hectare farm.

Meanwhile, reject sweetpotatoes, which used to be left in the field to rot, are now turned into dried sweetpotato chips that can be processed as animal feed. Combined with its earnings from fresh sweetpotato, Sapang PMPC had its first purchase order for the year amounting to P30,200,000.

Sapang PMPC plants sweetpotato from August to March and harvests from November until June or July. Sweetpotato varieties Kinerots, Inubi, Super Taiwan, and Super Bureau are the four varieties that are planted in its 2,000-hectare farm.

In 2000, the Sapang PMPC was established primarily to manage the excess sweetpotato produce. Before the establishment of the cooperative, there was no alternative market big enough to absorb the excess sweetpotato, resulting to spoilage.
 
“Our forefathers who were also sweetpotato farmers, did not have information or linkages to make their farm productive. Today, with the help of TCA and with the Sapang PMPC, we can say, ‘may pera sa kamote,’” said Tabago.

TCA has been supporting the cooperative since its establishment by providing clean planting materials. This initiative was done through a project funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD): Promoting commercialization of sweetpotato clean planting materials (SP-CPM): support to the food and feed industry in Central Luzon.

Aside from clean planting materials, Tabago said soil preparation is key to having a bountiful harvest.

“We make sure that the soil is powdery by harrowing using a tractor 10 to 14 times. This increases our sweetpotato productivity,” he said.

Tabago highlighted the success story of Sapang PMPC during the sweetpotato field day/harvest festival of the Farms and Industry Encounters through the Science and Technology Agenda (FIESTA) organized by TCA in Sapang, Moncada, Tarlac.

FIESTA is DOST-PCAARRD’s technology diffusion strategy, which uses events to enhance agri-aqua technology transfer and commercialization.