Feature Stories

Farmspiration: Tales of Hope

Farmspiration

Farmspiration: ‘Agriculture is dying’ is the sentiment of not just some, but many Filipinos. In a world where you can work and earn money in an air-conditioned setting, fewer and fewer people are choosing agriculture – albeit, a road less traveled. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in the community but it is also where the poorest and marginalized are, especially family farmers. Farmers are the truest embodiment of the Filipino folk song – ‘di man lang makatayo, di man lang makaupo’.

“Our farmers remain the poorest of the poor among the country’s labor force,” says Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA. AAMBIS-OWA Party List is the farmer’s voice in the Philippine House of Representatives. Also, based on the data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority, there is a steady decrease of the country’s agricultural employment rate – at .53 to 1.39 percent from 2013 to 2015. There were 31 million people involved in agriculture in 2013, then it only became 29.1 million in 2015. It forces people to ask the dreaded question: is agriculture dying?

Is it? Then again there is HOPE.

In February 2018, through the effort of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), an orchestrator of the National Extension System ensuring harmonized management of agricultural and fishery extension delivery systems, media practitioners all over Panay were invited to join an immersive walkthrough farm situated in different municipalities within Iloilo Province from February 19 to 21. ATI specifically selected five diversely unique farms, namely: Namocon Farmers Association Farm in Tigbauan, Tagbac Elementary School in Oton, Ephratha Farm in Badiangan, Agribased Micro Initiatives (AMI) Farm in Badiangan, and the Connie Carillo Diversified Farm in Bingawan. Here are their tales.

Farmspiration

Money in Manure. Namocon Farmers Association Farm in Tigbauan, Iloilo is a four-hectare property utilizing an integrated farming system, Namocon Farmers Association is situated in Brgy. Namocon in Tigbauan and is headed by farm president, Mr. Boy Zayco. The integrated diversified farm produces rice and high-value organic vegetables such as lettuce, eggplant, and ampalaya. The farm has been helping residents attain a better life through farming. One remarkable testament to this is Mrs. Lorenza ‘Moray’ Garcia.

Farmspiration

Hard work and perseverance – Lorenza ‘Moray’ Garcia earns from collecting cow manure

Lorenza ‘Moray’ Garcia, a 49-year-old resident of Namocon had no capital of her own. She started collecting cow manure and offered it as fertilizer for landscaped gardens and facades. Through Moray’s hard work and perseverance, her income exceeded the minimum wage employee. Her business of selling cow excrement allowed her the necessary funds to create a garden and grow vegetables. As of date, Moray has a bounty of vegetables. She was also able to purchase a motorcycle of her own.

Farmspiration

Farmers preparing Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) as Organic Fertilizer

Moray’s tale is indeed a testament to how agriculture can change lives. However, to Mrs. Emma Caballero, principal of Tagbac Elementary School, agriculture should be inspired and cultivated in the minds of the youth. ‘Start them young’, as per the esteemed educator.

Farmspiration

Start them young. The realization started when Mrs. Emma Caballero was assigned in Tagbac Elementary School in Brgy Tagbac Sur, Oton where the majority of the students are children of farmers – and even in 6th grade, was still not able to read. Mrs. Emma Caballero started remedial reading classes to no avail. Moreover, further investigation revealed that children, due to poverty, could not learn well with an empty stomach. Thus, a feeding program was initiated. To sustain the program, a garden was gradually built in the school’s backyard. Principal Emma also encouraged student-and-parent involvement in improving the school’s garden. Over time, the school has attracted a following. As of date, the Tagbac Elementary School is one of the notable schools in the province and is often visited by patrons from all over the country – including Iloilo Governor, Arthur Defensor. The school now stands at a total area of 5,973 square meters. It offers a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables, including medicinal herbs. Garden tours are given by students themselves – and even at 5th or 6th grade, students are able to give an exceptional and informative tour, giving as much input as possible about each plant and the health benefits it provides. The school’s success allowed zero miscellaneous fees for students. Moreover, vermicast, herbs, and potted plants to being sold at the school to augment school needs.

Farmspiration

To support and sustain the school’s feeding program, a garden was built at the school’s backyard

Farmspiration

Soy Burger and Soy Milk, a specialty of Tagbac Elementary School in Brgy Tagbac Sur, Oton

From a community farm and school-initiated farm, ATI introduced Ephrathah Farms, a whopping 14-hectare property in Brgy. Sariri, Badiangan and owned by Ed Roderick Canuto.

Agritourism Mammoth. Ephrathah offers a walk through agriculture, entrepreneurship, and tourism fused into one. Ephrathah started as a retirement farm and evolved into an agri-tourism haven, dream wedding venue, and ultimate go-to destination. Ephrathah is also a fruit and vegetable consolidator for big supermarkets in Iloilo. The main commodities of the farm/resort include the red lady papaya, dragon fruit, freshwater fish, chicken, and quail eggs.

Ephrathah Farms uses the method ‘Hydroponics’ a method of cultivating plants in a nutrient liquid with or without gravel or supporting medium. It is often referred to as a ‘soil-less method in hydroculture.

“There is money in farming”, as per Mr. Ed Canuto. Ephrathah, today, is comprised of a 7-hectare resort and 7-hectare farm. Ephrathah uses the method ‘Hydroponics’ in growing commodities, specifically lettuce. Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants in a nutrient liquid with or without gravel or a supporting medium. It is often referred to as a ‘soil-less method in hydroculture. The farm, as of date, is a consolidator of fruits and vegetables for big supermarkets in Iloilo. The visit to Ephrathah exemplified the power of agriculture in transforming a common farm into an agri-tourism giant. However, it also provoked the question of how much investment is needed to jumpstart a farm. In order to be as grandiose as Ephrathah, a large investment is needed. However, the next farm proved that it is still possible despite having less than a hectare of land.

One hectare farm. Agribased Micro Initiatives (AMI) Farm, is a 1-hectare property owned by Mr. Rey Pedroso. It is located in Badiangan, Iloilo, and offers a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, medicinal herbs, and livestock. The farm is equipped with a space for growing plants, a hatchery, as well as piggery – all within a 1-hectare property. The farm was not only able to sustain the family’s needs but provided a healthy haven and green paradise for the family.

Going digital. The Agricultural Traning Institute, promising ‘excellent extension services beyond boundaries’, is the e-extension and training arm of the Philippine Department of Agriculture – aimed to lead in the delivery of services for agriculture and fisheries. The institute utilizes technology to aid in helping and empowering farmers. The e-extension program for agriculture creates an electronic and interactive bridge for farmers, fishers, and other stakeholders. The institute offers the following interactive and digital services for farmers.

— E-Learning. Amongst the programs is ‘e-learning’, a long-distance education that provides online certificate courses and digital learning resources. This includes technology kits, video clips, and mini-tutorials. The e-Learning Portal can be accessed at www.e-extension.gov.ph/elearning.

— E-Farming. Another useful tool provided by the Agricultural Traning Institute is e-farming through the Farmer’s Contact Center delivers farm and business advisory services to the farmers, fishers, extention workers, and partners. The e-farming services are manned by licensed agriculturists and they respond via voice calls, texts, emails, and even online chat.

— E-Selling. FilFarm, or Filipino Farmers Are Ready to Market, is an avenue for sellers and buyers to meet. It envisions a future where markets are brought directly to buyers at a lesser price. The primary aim of this initiative is to connect farmers directly to the market.

And it is not just the institute going digital, even the farmers as well! The Namocon Farmers Association Farm in Tigbauan, Iloilo is on Facebook. The profile provides information and updates on the lives of ordinary farmers and their journey through farming. Even one-hectare farm Agribased Micro Initiatives (AMI) of Rey Pedroso is also posting updates on Facebook. Home of e-Extension, the Agricultural Traning Institute – with its regional pages – is always on the go in posting information, training, seminars, and opportunities for interested farmers.

The visit to the farms was an eye-opening opportunity to see the current state of farmers from small-scale to large-scale farms. There is money in farming. There is promise in farming. Many lives have been transformed by agriculture. The farm tour showed that, despite the varying difference in terms of method, commodity, and land area, only one thing is in common among the farms, it is a genuine passion for agriculture. Is farming dying? These stories are just reasons why we should not give up on farming. Agriculture is not dead.

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