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by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

Mindanao's Ube farmers who will be chosen to supply the raw materials for the production of the Mindanao Ube Jam will be the first beneficiaries in the piloting of a Farmers' Pension Fund.

The establishment of a Farmers' and Fishermen's Pension Fund has been my dream since I entered public service in 1995 and I have often wondered why government had never really considered this.

When I was Secretary of Agriculture, I directed the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, to study the feasibility of establishing a Pension Fund for farmers and fishermen so that when they grow old, they would have something to use to buy medicine and food.

The PCIC, through its President Jovy Bernabe, completed the study and crafted a proposed legislation which was submitted to representatives of the Senior Citizens Party which in turn prepared a draft bill.

It is a challenging legislation because the parameters on who would qualify for the pension fund and where the funds would be sourced or who would manage the funds will have to be established.

While waiting for that legislation, I thought of doing a pilot test of that concept where farmers and fishermen would get pension benefits.

As I prepare to launch this December the Mindanao Ube Jam, which will be produced by my workers in my farm, I thought of establishing a system where the farmers who will supply the Ube will be part of this ambitious undertaking.

This would be similar to the Pension Fund Concept and this will start with the establishment of a database for all Ube Farmers who will be chosen to supply the raw materials based on the quality of their products.

Farmers whose products would qualify for our Ube Jam processing project will be given a premium for every kilo of the purple yam bought from them.

The Premium, say P1 per kilo, will be credited to them and this could be withdrawn in lump sum after a period of 5 years.

This means that if an Ube Farmer delivered 100 metric tons of the tuber in the period of five years, he would be entitled to a "Pension Fund" of P100,000.

Since we will not be producing a lot of the Mindanao Ube Jam in the early stages of this project, initially we will only enroll 10 to 20 farmers.

I expect the Mindanao Ube Jam Project to grow big because this early, I am already receiving so many supply requests from prospective outlets, including a huge supermarket chain in the country.

Anticipating an increased demand, I have asked Mindanao inventor Engr. Rudy Cane to design for the program a semi-mechanized processing facility.

In the meantime, the production of the Mindanao Ube Jam will be done by my workers in the farm and we will start selling as soon as we obtain a Certificate of Product Registration from the Food and Drugs Administration.

If and when we are able to successfully operationalize the Ube Farmers Pension fund, I hope this will serve as a model and a template for a commodity-based national pension fund which will reward our farmers and fishermen for their sacrifices in producing food for the country.

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