Uplifting the lot of the peasants

 

 

By Rose de la Cruz

 

Farmers, just like the slaves of yore play a very important, but the least appreciated, role in society. Noble as their task is, their hardwork to produce food for their fellow humans seldom get recognized and this sector in fact is the most marginalized, getting the least resources and attention from government.

 

The middlemen to whom they sell their produce often twist their arms (figuratively speaking) to get better prices for them, even if the rates they demand result in sub-human living for the farmers and their dependents.

 

It is no surprise then that their children and generations after them frown upon this endeavor and aspire for employment (no matter how low the pay and rank) in urban centers, where they end up being miserable and oftentimes, hungry than when they lived off in their father’s farms.

 

Tilling the lands from dawn to dusk has deprived them of getting education and acquiring more skills to ensure their productivity and give them dignity. The farmers are usually uneducated and unwashed—their homes having the least amenities and comforts in life.

 

Dignifying farming

 

Holistic approaches are now being worked out by the private sector, led by SM Foundation Inc. (the corporate arm of conglomerate SM Group), the academe (St. Isidore “The Farmer” Learning Center) and the different government departments and agencies like TESDA (or the Technical Education for Skills Development Authority),

 

But even as such approaches are still being fine-tuned, SM Foundation Inc started long ago a farmers’ training program called Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan, a 12-week training course for rural and urban farmers on high value vegetable and fruit crops and the different modern technologies that can make farming enjoyable, more productive and sustainable.


No longer will farming be just segmentized as rice, corn, sugarcane or coconut/coffee or highland vegetables and fruits, but commercial farming, even in small scale can be achieved through the KSK techniques being propagated by SM Foundation and its partners--- Harbest Agriculture (for rural farms) and Macondray (for urban farms).

 

The foundation’s 13 years of KSK trained 23,170 farmers through 187 farmers’ training sessions held in 2,925 barangays in 772 towns and cities all over the country. In 2018 alone, a total of 3,370 farmers were trained from 32 batches of training sessions in 189 barangays nationwide. Some of the KSK program’s previous graduates have already formed cooperative groups and are currently supplying fresh produce through SM Food Group’s wholesalers or to the public markets and restaurants in their areas.

 

Many of the trainees pursued their newfound skills in their backyards or leased lands to plant on, a lot of them “trained” fellow farmers, mostly relatives and neighbors about the new farming technologies they learned and to plant vegetables alongside the traditional paddies and still others became so successful they are now marketing their produce in the public markets or deal with consolidators that supply to SM.

 

This way, the cycle of poverty somehow eases in the countryside and there is hope that farmers would someday be farm-entrepreneurs themselves someday.

 

By undertaking urban gardening, the SM Foundation has also been sowing the seeds of interest in the lowly profession through urban housewives and eventually the elite farm-hobbyists, who fantasize about preparing and eating their fresh ( chemical-free) produce or get into farming to relieve them of daily stresses.

 

Slowly, farming is no longer an undertaking for the peasants but even the professionals who desire fresh food and engage in de-stressing activities like planting, now becoming a dignified calling.

 

TESDA certified

 

KSK “graduates” from Batch 190 in Mexico, Pampanga passed the qualifying tests and were given NC 2 certificates by TESDA on Organic Agriculture Production. With this certification, they are qualified to officially train their peers or work in organic farms abroad, should they wish to leave. In addition, TESDA has also been giving farmer-trainees (or their family members) scholarships for any course they choose (skills and vocational courses) to ensure that they become productive year-round especially while waiting for harvest.

 

Collaborations

 

SM Foundation Inc. executive director for outreach and training programs, Cristie Angeles, said she has been collaborating with several government and private groups/agencies to ensure that KSK trainees will continue learning more skills and being certified to professionalize their skills and make farming a lucrative and attractive endeavor.

 

One such collaboration meeting held by SMFI last May was participated by the Departments of Agriculture (and its bureaus and agencies like Agricultural Training Institute, High Value Commercial Crops, Agriculture and Market Development and Bureau of Plant Industry); Trade and Industry and Tourism; Education;  Science and Technology; Social Welfare and Development (particularly 4Ps beneficiaries to raise their aspirations and not forever depend on subsidies and dole-outs); SM City Pampanga, SM markets, TESDA and the St. Isidore “The Farmer” Learning Center.

 

Some of the batches of farmers’ training (like Batch 191) submitted a project proposal for funding by DSWD Region 1.

 

Successes

 

Many of the farmer-graduates of KSK have made it big—supplying their produce to the public markets and restaurants; expanding their farm holdings and even providing volumes needed by the suppliers of SM supermarkets. Others have been coaching their peers (neighbors, relatives and friends) to ensure that they also enjoy the benefits from their new-found skills.

 

Farmer Ambrosio D. Juan Jr. of KSK Batch 52 in Mabini, Isabela, for instance, was among 45 farmer-heroes awarded by East West Seed Corp. in November 2017.

 

Not at all easy

 

Not all KSK batches harvest and “graduate” from their training courses on time. Batch 172 in Pangasinan for instance, which began training in June 2017 and was supposed to finish in September harvested and finished their course only last January 2019.

 

Their crops were hit hard twice—habagat in June and typhoon Ompong in July—wiping away any possible harvest from the land. From an original 120 participants they ended with 108 because some trainees were students who had to attend classes when they started all over again.

 

The techno-farm in Barangay Doyong—owned by trainee Bernardo Morales (a retired manager of Land Bank in Pangasinan). He said he would welcome his fellow-trainees who want to plant in his family’s 1.4-hectare farm just so they can continue practicing what they learned and earn at the same time.

 

Bernardo Ferrer, at 69 is the oldest participant and has been farming for 50 years with no intention of giving up for as long as he lives. “Salamat at sa edad kong ito meron pa akong dapat matutunan at yan ay nakamit ko dito KSK. “

 

Stephen Ballesteros, 29, the youngest but most active advocate of farming, used to maintain the IT system of a hospital but after three years, he decided to get into farming in the land of his father (an agriculturist).

He finds that farming is not just a stress-reliever but there is great fulfillment in seeing the seeds grow into marketable sizes and earn from the products while at the same time supplying freshly - harvested vegetables on the family’s table. He began being passionate about farming in 2017—after his hospital job and while completing the requirements for a cruise line (also as IT employee). He now heads the Assosasyon ng Samahang Maggugulay ng Barangay Doyong.

 

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