PILAR, Bohol – Unhappy and lonely working abroad, 38-year-old Cristine T. Almero decided to return to her hometown of Pilar to make a living by growing palay on the 2.33-hectare rice field that she inherited from her parents.
But just like other small farmers in town, Almero once fell prey to informal lenders who charge high rates of 7% to 10% per month. But all that changed when she and other farmers availed of the Sikat Saka Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), which offers low-interest loans.
“Noong wala pang Sikat Saka, kung saan-saan kami humihiram ng pera pambili ng feeds, panggastos sa palayan, pangtanim, at labor. Kulang talaga yung tubo kasi ibabayad lang sa interes,” said Almero, who, like small farmers like her, need timely and affordable credit support every cropping cycle to finance their palay production.
Through the assistance of LANDBANK, Almero currently enjoys reduced interest rate of 0.75% per month under the Sikat Saka Program. The low rate is a result of her good payment record for loans she obtained from the Program starting in 2014, at an initial interest rate of 1.25% per month – still a relatively low borrowing rate than those offered by informal lenders.
Since she joined the formal credit system, Almero said her income has increased to about 50% more every cropping cycle, providing a better life for her family.
“Malaki ‘yung naitulong. Nakaipon na kami, nagkaroon kami ng savings, at nakabili kami ng second-hand na sasakyan. Gumiginhawa ang buhay namin, hindi na kami nangungutang dun sa labas. Tsaka nakakakain na kami ng maayos,” Almero shared.
Aside from low interest rates, Almero also benefits from the support services of Sikat Saka Program partner-agencies. These include market support from the National Food Authority (NFA), free irrigation services from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), full crop insurance premium subsidy from the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC), and training courses on credit worthiness and financial literacy facilitated by the DA’s Agricultural Training Institute (ATI).
“Gusto kong magpasalamat sa LANDBANK dahil malaki ang naitulong nila sa aming mga farmers. Sana magpatuloy pa sila sa pagtulong samin,” Almero added.
Almero is only one of the 604 small rice farmers in Bohol who have availed of the Sikat Saka Program. And just like her, majority of these farmer-borrowers are already enjoying 0.75% interest rate per month for their loans.
The Sikat Saka Program has helped increase palay production in the province of Bohol, particularly in areas under the Bohol Integrated Irrigation System. For the past couple of years, the province was able to contribute a substantial share to the region’s palay production, making it the “Rice Granary of Central Visayas.”
Launched in 2012, the Sikat Saka Program provides a loan of up to P50,000 per hectare for small rice and corn farmers tilling at least half a hectare, but not exceeding five hectares of land, and are not members of LANDBANK-accredited cooperatives, which makes it difficult for them to secure loans from other financial institutions.
For more details about the Program’s features, eligibility and application requirements, interested borrowers may contact the nearest open LANDBANK Lending Center or Branch nationwide, or call LANDBANK’s customer service hotline at (02) 8-405-7000 or at PLDT Domestic Toll Free 1-800-10-405-7000.