Former professionals are key to renaissance in farming



By Rose de la Cruz


What started as hobby for some is now becoming serious business for other former professionals, who it seems are leading the renaissance to farming.


This became evident with the recent “graduation” and awarding of qualifying certifications to about 50 participants in the SM Foundation Inc.’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) farmers’ training program last December, who were handed these important papers by the Technical Education for Skills Development Authority (TESDA) at the St. Isidore “the farmer” Learning Center in Sta. Ana, Pampanga.


The certifications qualify them to take the next round of exams and trainings for an NC3 (trainer or teaching) certificate which to them is not just an added plum but a way of helping other farmers learn better farming skills. If they pass the NC3 training and examinations then they could qualify to teach in universities and colleges with agriculture degrees or if plans by the Department of Education push through even teach junior and senior high school students on proper farming as an alternative livelihood.


The new breed of farmers


Adrian Arceo, 61, finished electrical engineering, from Concepcion Tarlac and worked in Saudi Arabia for more than 30 years. He is now part of the Bamban team of KSK farmers who recently got their NC3 qualifying certification from the TESDA.


“We have been part of KSK batch 116 around 3 years ago. Now there is additional skills training but this time with certificate of NC3, which would make us qualified to teach to farmers and agricultural students. We will be called training methodologist so we can teach.  This is what Cristie Angeles (Executive Director of SMFI for outreach and livelihood) targeted for us, he said.


His group is composed of oldtimers in the KSK program.  “There were over 100 plus farmers in my batch (116) that trained. By my estimate there could be half that pursued farming because up to now we communicate with them and their farming is ongoing. Others are old farmers na dati  kumikita. The new ones like me (though it’s not my profession) only started in 2015 coming right from Saudi Arabia.


He owns 2.5 hectares that were previously planted to palay and corn because there is irrigation. Sometimes he plants root crops.  But this time I want to convert the palayan into leafy vegetables like those in the popular folk song, Bahay Kubo.


His plan after graduation from TESDA is first to work at his backyard where he planted lettuce, kangkong upland, ampalaya, talong bilog, pahaa and sili and kamatis.


He ventured int organic (or natural) vegetable farming as a hobby first and gave away his harvest to neighbors and relatives. “I did that to expand my knowledge (basically organic) but this time, I want to focus on organic farming while maintaining my corn and palay. When he goes full blast with vegetables he would give up his palayan. In vegetables, there is gold. Palay is plagued by imports. He will fence his farm and pilot on some vegetable crops.


He said with palay the soil already suffered fatigue from the poisonous chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He is now going to regenerate the soil through organic means. It takes time for the soil to regenerate, he said. “Now my backyard is pure organic, absolutely no chemicals and the spray I use organic materials with garlic, chili purely for personal use. I even taught my kids to eat veggies because of organic. Nag-iba ang perception nila on gulay. This time, that’s what I want to concentrate in my farm. I plan to get into solar pump to store water. I also plan to put up greenhouse (kahit screen lang) for lettuce and geoplastics to keep water intact in the soil. But these all need huge capital.


As a senior citizen I find joy in farming. My neighbors and friends have also learned that organic veggies are different and healthy. Totally no chemicals. Before I had arthritis now with organic, I noticed that I am healthy and feel no pain. My hypertension di nawawala but nadyan lang, normal lang.


With the certification of TESDA, he is excited to teach, isang step na lang baka pwede ako magturo sa agriculture. I told Cristie that I am doing this not just for myself but to thank SM for the help it gave me. I am also encouraging my group mates (54 plus in two batches of KSK) to pursue farming. Sayang naman lupa ko so I might as well produce. And SM promised us that it would get our produce, even if just a third, that’s a big help. In my backyard I have pechay and mustasa.


Angela George Guia de Jesus, known as Angie, 59, had been experimenting on farming since 2005 first with red hot sili seeds from Japan in pots, or what is called urban gardening. Her farm is in Concepcion Tarlac. From the pots her curiosity was raised when the sili in pots got sick. She researched endlessly and attended seminars. Her mother even prevented her from planting sili with her (mom’s)  orchids.   and from paso I got interested when the plant got sick. The first to get sick was sili and she tried to search for answers all over. She planted pinakbet gulay in less than half hectare which she sold to the local market on barter for upland (Benguet) veggies.  


She finished nursing at the University of Santo Tomas but never practiced it.  She  got interested in farming because her dad was a palay farmer and she grew up with him in the farm. Napatubo ko lang until college is water plant. But my mom and sister had orchids and ornamentals.


When her parents would go to market, they complain about the high prices of vegetables so she told them to plant them ourselves. Sili is like Christmas tree, ang ganda niya. It had spider mites. East West Seeds Company had off- season training, which she went through in Bulacan. I told them my farm is in a pot. I want to learn why my plant did not grow. From there my interest grew until I attended all trainings and seminars.


From gulay napunta sa palay (pinagaralan ko with training at Philrice with lots of chemicals being used) and then the pinakbet veggies 400 sq. m. ang farm.


At KSK Batch 116, she applied her learning in her farm. KSK mas malawak ang kaalaman, land prep, seeding, transplanting, mulching, greenhouse. Malawak na pagaaral, very detailed because the trainors teach whatever you want to know. I learned my mistakes and corrected them. Even in harvest, matiyaga sila magturo.


May mga bumibili, pick and pay, and they would ask how to grow them so I share with them what I know. Students from University of San Carlos who bought seedlings asked me the details.


Because of SM Foundation’s KSK program my farming instinct came alive. And with the NC3 qualifying certificate, nadagdagan na naman, not just agriculture for personal use but to share with others so that others can plant systemically. And the interest will grow. Farming need not involve big lands even 10,000 sq.m. you can do it.


KSK gives importance to small farmers. KSK is not just about farming but also on interpersonal relationships na nabubuo sa grupo namin. Kailangan ma accredit before makaturo. I don’t plan to go full time teaching with DepEd kasi mawawala ang aking time to touch the plants.


We are losing the youth to call centers and out of farming. Because they see how hard their parents work and parang walang reward. Government’s support to agriculturel is mainly lip service. The planners of project must be farmers for the projects to be relevant to the intended beneficiaries.


Always their (government’s) thrust is big time farming but not farming, which is what SM is advocating small farmers to band together and sell their produce as a group. Aetas are not being given attention.


Farm administrator


Agapita de Leon, 1974 studied agriculture at the Central Luzon State University and Araneta (when she joined her siblings in Manila).


“Engr. Romeo Cordova owns St. Isidore and the learning center, assessment center and farm. I maintain the 4 hectares. This is our first tie -up with SM. Maganda sana masunod lahat. Farmers planted here in more than one hectare.


Farmers are studying with the help of Harbest Agriculture. Maayos maganda sana masunod po yung makuha ang produce and ours also. We are putting up a trading post right here soon. All the produce of the students for 16 weeks, from different barrios Mexico, Sta. Ana, Bamban, Mabalacat, Sapang Uwak (Floridablanca) were planted there.


In KSK the farmers were provided with seedlings, mulching, etc. by SM.  Once the trading post is put up, SM will teach them the market specifications and St. Isidore will absorb the rejects from SM.


St. Isidore, the farm school, has lots of graduates who are also assessed. As a farm school it is accredited with TESDA and the Agricultural Training Institute of the Department of Agriculture.


“We will soon put up a spa to use our herbal and therapeutic plant. This is an agri tourism place. Many use our venue to photo shoot for weddings and prenups as well as function hall where weddings, debuts, birthdays, baptismal are held.  The hotel started with 10 rooms. Vacationers are taught to farm. We always have seedlings and nursery. Some stay here to take farming as hobby.


“Before we had lots of Aetas here but we continue to teach them to reduce 4Ps.They can plant lettuce, mustasa, sili in bottles. I wanted to look for people to train but they lost interest. Sana pagdating nang araw mawala na ang 4Ps. Mas mahal pa ang farming labor than employees, they demand libre pagkain.


She has a 2.7 -hectare farm in Bacolor planted to mul11berry, sitao, talong, livestock which she has a lot of. We made banana vinegar. I am making fruit vinegars courtesy of the Kapampagan Development Fdn of MVP.

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