Flatbed dryers now white elephants

    SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ – Hundreds of flatbed dryers distributed by the government to farmers to help improve the quality of their rice harvest are becoming “white elephants” due to the prohibitive cost of the erstwhile free source of biomass energy to run them.

    Each facility, with a 12 feet by 18 feet bed and furnace components, including the cost of the shed, concrete base, training of farmers manning them, supervision, transportation, and setting up of the facility, amounted to P750,000.

    In Nueva Ecija, a total of 61 units of this facility were given to irrigators’ associations, records at the Philippine Mechanization Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) here, showed. A few of them were seen operating infrequently.

    All over, the country, about 1,100 of this kind of drying facility were distributed, according to a source from the Department of Agriculture (DA). Most of them, particularly in the Cagayan Valley region, were not being used anymore.

    The marking “GMA Rice Program 2007” is visibly seen on this drying facility.

    A previous DA report said the distribution of the flatbed dryers was made under the program FIELDS, an acronym for fertilizer, irrigation, extension works, loans, dryers and seeds. In 2008, the amount released for the flatbed dryer distribution was P2.3 billion.

    “PhilMech upscaled the model of this dryer developed by scientists at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB),” according Engr.Raymond Joseph Macaranas, PhilMech senior science research specialist. “Two manufacturers were later accredited to mass produce them,” he added.

    PhilMech initially distributed the facility but the DA regional field offices later on were given the responsibility to identify the benefi ciaries and the distribution of the dryers.

    “About 180 to 200 sacks of rice hull are needed to run the facility and dry 100 cavans within two days,” Macaranas said. “The rice hull then was given for free by the rice millers,” he added.

    But then, when the demand for rice hull for use in other industries rose, the rice millers started selling it for P10 to P20 per sack, he added.

    Interest in using this facility started to wane.

    Wilfredo Bernardo, a farmer here, said he pays P40 per cavan for the drying of his harvest by the flatbed dryer. Other expenditures, he added, included P12 per cavan for hauling and P100 for the diesel used by the transport vehicle.

    Other farmers said they have to line up to avail themselves of the use of the drying facility. A maximum of only 100 cavans can be dried by the facility per batch, they said.

    Operators of the dryers said they spend about P4,000 for the rice hull and a fee of 15 cavans for the workers per batch of drying.

    “We prefer using our concreted barangay roads for the drying of our harvest. It is for free,” some of the farmers said.

    In the meantime, some of the distributed flatbed dryers were seen being used as chicken coop or as a storage facility for different kinds of materials.


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