Tractor hopes to lower cost of rice productionBy Vicente S. Labro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It all started with a World Bank (WB) report about the high cost of labor and low rates of mechanization, which contributed to high palay production cost in the Philippines.
A school in the agricultural town of Tabontabon in Leyte province decided to come up with a project that would help solve the problem: The Smart tractor.
Smart stands for safe, multipurpose, adaptable and with a rideable technology—characteristics that define the kind of tractor developed by Colegio de Sta. Lourdes of Leyte Foundation Inc. (CSLLFI) based in Tabontabon.
Dr. Rustico Balderian, school founder and president, said they developed the tractor in a bid to address high production cost based on the recent WB report.
According to the WB report, one ton of palay costs $96 to produce in the Philippines compared to $59 in Thailand, $74 in Vietnam and $69 in Indonesia.
It noted that the high rate of manual labor, the low rate of mechanization and higher rice prices in the Philippines make the wage component of Philippine rice production more expensive.
“With this tractor, labor and production costs would be lowered. This means bigger income for our farmers,” said Balderian, an optometrist and businessman.
He pointed out that the Smart tractor was better than hand tractors being used in some farms because farmers, instead of having to trod on the paddies, could ride on the newly invented tractor. “Schistosomiasis is endemic in Leyte and farmers are in danger of being inflicted with the disease,” he said.
He said the farmers would be protected from schistosomiasis or leptospirosis since they wouldn’t have to wade through the paddies.
They are also protected from the blistering heat of the sun or sudden rain since the tractor has a roof.
Balderian said this new tractor was so easy to operate that even wives of farmers could prepare the rice fields for planting. Actually, the tractor just “floats” on the rice paddies, he added.
The Smart tractor is also multipurpose. It could be converted either into a transplanter, combined harvester and a road maintenance equipment because a trailer and a dozer could be attached to the tractor.
It can even be used as an ambulance especially in the rural areas of Tabontabon where the mode of transportation is the “habal-habal” or single motorcycle.
In cases of emergencies like when the patient suffers a stroke or a mother is on the verge of delivering a baby, riding a habal-habal is not appropriate because the patients have to sit and not lie down.
Balderian said the Smart tractor could be converted into an ambulance by attaching a stretcher into the vehicle.
In case the farm-to-market road needs repair, a village doesn’t have to wait for the municipal or provincial engineer since they could do road repair work themselves using the Smart tractor.
“Attaching a blade in front of the tractor and a trailer behind, they can haul road materials and level the road,” he said.
Balderian said he is now in the process of filing a patent for the Smart tractor at the regional office of the Intellectual Property Rights based in the capital city of Tacloban, about 30 kilometers away.
“I’m sure that our application would be approved because I have never seen a tractor similar to this,” he said.
According to Balderian, the Smart tractor has an 18-horsepower engine, but this could be upgraded to 24 or 36 hp, depending on the desire of the buyer.
He said the basic cost of the Smart tractor was about P250,000. The buyer could request attachments but it would cost more, he added.
Asked why he spearheaded the production of the Smart tractor, he said he would like to help the community, especially the farmers.
The CSLLFI started as a nursing school and had already produced graduates. Its passing rate is more than 85 percent.
What is unique about the school is that all the students are scholars, mostly sons and daughters of poor farmers who are interested to pursue college education.
But there are conditions.
One is that the students must maintain a grade of 2 and must not have a grade below 2.5 per semester. Once they graduate and find work abroad, they must send $1,000 a month (or P40,000 in an exchange rate of P40 to a dollar) to their parents for three consecutive years as payment to the school.
The school opened an entrepreneurial course for those interested to run their own businesses. Those who would apply for a scholarship in entrepreneurship are asked to present their proposed business and defend it before a committee.
Once approved, the school would finance the project, with the student as industrial partner on condition they would not seek employment but would put up their own businesses in the town.