ILAGAN CITY, Isabela – Born to a family of farmers in the remote barangay of Sindun Bayabo, corn farmer Levy Mateo learned about the value of hard work at a young age.
Levy started helping out in their corn fields as a young student and eventually became a full-time farmer. She relied on the three-hectare corn field she inherited from her parents as a means to support her own family, especially in raising her three children.
But despite Levy’s diligence over the years, she struggled to enjoy her earnings and save for her family’s future, as she had to allocate a large portion of her income to pay the hefty interest from loans she regularly availed from a private lender.
For 12 years, Levy turned to a nearby rice and corn mill that offered loans to farmers in order to sustain her corn production. The mill charged an interest rate of 30% per annum, and as a condition to avail of a loan, required borrowers to sell all of their produce to the mill at a low price—leaving Levy and other farmers with little profit.
“’Yung panggastos sana para sa pangangailangan ng aming pamilya, ibabayad pa namin sa napakalaking porsyento ng interes. Pati ang presyo ng mais na ibebenta, sila [rice mill] rin ang nag-didikta,” said Levy.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Levy’s income decreased further due to the limited movement of goods and strict imposition of lockdowns in the area. She was then faced with a grim circumstance: if she continued to avail of high- interest loans from the mill, there will be almost nothing left for her family and their daily expenses.
It was during this time that Levy was encouraged by a fellow farmer to avail of a loan under the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) Lending Program offered by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).
“Nung nakahiram ako sa LANDBANK, hindi na ako lumipat sa iba. Sa LANDBANK na ako laging lumalapit para sa aming mga pangangailangan sa sakahan. Napakaganda talaga dahil ang baba ng interes ng ACEF,” said Levy.
Under the Program, Levy availed of an initial loan for working capital amounting to P120,000—which has since grown to P600,000—for the purchase of farm inputs such as seedlings and fertilizers.
With the Program’s affordable interest rate of only 2% per annum, Levy was able to provide a more comfortable life for her family while repaying her loan on time. She was also free to choose a buyer in the market who can offer the best price for her produce, which can reach as high as P1,000 per cavan, multiplied by Levy’s average yield of 400 cavans per harvest.
Banking on her good experience as a borrower, she has encouraged fellow farmers to seek assistance from LANDBANK to finance their production, including her own daughter, who likewise ventured into farming.
“Ang laki ng pasasalamat ko sa LANDBANK dahil talagang umunlad at guminhawa ang aming pamumuhay. Hindi na kami nagigipit sa pagbabayad ng interes,” she added.
Under the ACEF Lending Program, farmers, fishers, their cooperatives and associations, as well as micro and small enterprises (MSEs) can borrow funds from LANDBANK to boost their agricultural productivity.
Farmers and fishers can borrow up to P1 million while cooperatives, associations, and MSEs may avail of loans up to P5 million for the purchase of farm inputs and equipment, as well as the acquisition or establishment of agri-based production and processing machineries, equipment, and facilities, among others.
LANDBANK has released a total of P9.2 billion in loans under the ACEF Lending Program in support of over 38,900 borrowers composed of small farmers and fishers, cooperatives, and MSMEs nationwide.