by Johanna Marie Drece, Joie April Lanuzga, and Yunika Ysa Lasic
Every Friday, Nestor Pamulaklakin proudly sells his organically grown vegetables in the front steps of the Los Baños Municipal Office. At 74, Mang Nestor still enjoys farming in his humble little farm in Brgy. Maahas in Los Banos, Laguna.
Mang Nestor is only one of the current organic farmers of Los Baños, Laguna under the Techno-Sakahan Community hosted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development-Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST) in partnership with the Gender and Development Office (GAD). He maintains and prunes the model farm in Brgy. Maahas where he also earns a living.
At one point in his life, Mang Nestor was also a farmer practicing chemical farming. He was accustomed to using commercial products such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides laden with chemicals to increase his harvest. But at the back of his mind, he thought about the safety of his harvest. “Minsan ‘yung produkto mo, nag-aalala ka habang kumakain, gawa ng may lason,” he said.
Because Mang Nestor knew the ways of chemical farming, he developed a keen eye in examining vegetables. “Kapag bibili ka sa palengke ng ampalayang ang gaganda tapos wala man lamang sira, umasa kang may chemicals ‘yun.” He explained that these fruits are soaked in chemical-filled containers and then harvested right after a day.
“May may lason ka nang nakakain,” he said. Mang Nestor soon realized that the chemical fertilizer he used degraded the natural nutrients of the soil as well the microorganisms in it. His plants were overdosed with chemicals, withering them out eventually. From that experience, he thought of doing ‘regular composting’ wherein he gathered dry grasses and leaves which he deposited into his self-made ground wells. He waited for six months up to a year for the dry grasses and leaves to decay and decompose. He then removed the upper portion and took the soil underneath it and mixed it with humus. Decomposing is a long process, Mang Nestor said, but he was not in a rush for he knew that great things take a long time. He patiently waited until it is ready to be used as a fertilizer.
Mang Nestor’s transition from chemical to organic farming started when he inquired at the Department of Agriculture. He was eager to learn because he knew he still lacked proper knowledge regarding organic farming. It was a lucky coincidence for Mang Nestor because the Department of Agriculture was then looking for co-operators of a new project titled “Enhancing Gender-Sensitive Organic Vegetable Production Livelihood Enterprise for Low-Income Communities of Los Banos Laguna”. So without any hesitation, he joined the orientation. Every Tuesday for six months, he attended trainings and seminars with other farmers until he felt that he was ready to start organic farming. The Department taught them to avoid using toxic chemicals and commercial fertilizers. They regularly visit Mang Nestor’s farm to check if he really is using natural organic methods in his farm.
Mang Nestor and the other farmers also learned how to enhance the soil’s nutrients and to bring back its fertility. One example is Green Manuring – the process of using plants as humus instead of the actual manure of animals.
First, they will prepare the land, wherein they will plough and crush the soil and leave it to be aerated for two weeks. From then, they will scatter mongo seeds in the area.
“Kasi ang mongo, legumes yan. Ang roots nyan, may nodules nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Kaya bago bumunga o bumulaklak ‘yung mongo, inaararo ulit namin yan at hinahalo na sa lupa,” Mang Nestor explained.
According to Mang Nestor, organic farming plays a vital role in the community. Because the farmers supply the food of the community, they should be careful in the production of their vegetables. Consumers are mostly dependent on them in terms of the nutrition that they get in their meals. Farmers should be responsible in the methods they used to produce vegetables, Mang Nestor added.
He also stressed that it is not only the consumers who are affected by the use of harmful chemicals in farming. Even the farmers are negatively affected as well. “Sana, huwag na silang gumamit ng pesticides dahil hindi lang consumers yung apektado. Sila ding farmers. Napakamahal na nga, nakaka-cause pa ng iba’t-ibang sakit sa katawan. Nade-degrade din yung quality ng lupa kasi namamatay yung mga IMO o Indigenous Microorganisms na natural na nagpapataba sa lupa. Kaya ngayon, nalulugi na nga sila, nagkakasakit pa,” he insisted.
If only farmers would choose to farm organically, then they would also experience the peace that comes from knowing fully well that what they cook and what they make their families eat are healthy and free from farming chemicals.
“Unang-una, panatag ang kalooban ko na kahit anong gulay ang ipakain ko sa aking pamilya ay safe sila at malusog. Isa pa ay kahit papaano, kahit kakaunti, may dumarating akong pera at may naitutulong ako sa pamilya ko. Hindi na kasi ako nakapagtatrabaho gawa nang wala nang tumatanggap dahil matanda. Dahil sa organic farming, hindi na rin ako gumagastos masyado sa pesticides kasi mga natural yung ginagamit ko,” said Mang Nestor.
Some of these natural farming technologies are 1) Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ) that helps in making the plants bear fruits and vegetables, 2) Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) that aids in making the plants grow healthier and more robust, 3) Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) that assist the soil to provide more nutrients to the plants, and 4) Vermi-Composting, which makes use of African night crawlers in decomposing biodegradable materials which serve as soil fertilizer.
For the FPJ, Mang Nestor says not all plant parts can be used. Only legumes and pod-bearing plants like ipil-ipil, acacia and malunggay can be used because of their high nitrogen content. Mang Nestor mixes two teaspoons of FPJ in a liter of water and he uses this mixture once every week to water the soil. Not surprisingly, it is not just the farmers who benefit from organic farming. The consumers who are the main market of organic produce are also given the chance to eat healthy food and be proud in what they eat.
“Panatag ang loob nila na walang chemical yung kinakain nila. Masustanya yung kinakain dahil masustansya rin yung pinanggalingan. At syempre mas sasaya sila kasi nga alam nila na healthy at natural yung gulay,” Mang Nestor encouraged.
Based on his observations, Mang Nestor said that consumers must be careful when buying vegetables in the market. He even made use of the regular eggplant that can be bought from the market as an example.
He said that most people would buy flawless eggplants rather than the ones with holes in them. But according to Mang Nestor, the reason why those shiny eggplants look so perfect is because they were soaked in pesticides.
“Ang i-aadvice ko sa consumers, maging mapagmatyag sa pagbili at piliin ang bibilhin. Itanong kung saan galing ang produkto at kung anong klaseng pagpapatubo yung ginagamit dito. Pamalagiin nila ang pagkain ng organic product kahit sabihin na hindi yun ang ginagawa ng karamihan,” he said.
While he is aware that a lot of farmers are still practicing chemical farming, he also knows that there are a lot of people who want to start anew with organic farming.
“Sa mga technology at knowledge na na-acquire ko sa different trainings at seminars sa LGU (Local Government Unit) natin, pwede akong mag-advice at kung maaari ay mag-lecture,” he said. He even encourages his neighbors and friends to plant vegetables in their own small backyards. He said that even in cemented spaces, one can still grow vegetables through container gardening. If the space becomes too small for the growing plants, one can use strings and wires to hang them known as aerial gardening.
“Maraming ways. Kung ayaw mo, maraming dahilan. ‘Pag gusto mo, maraming paraan,” Mang Nestor said. Mang Nestor’s depth of understanding, skill, and experience in organic farming makes him an exceptional farmer in the field. His achievements are seen in the trophies, medallions and certificates displayed in his home. He is also known as a farmer who is generous, kindhearted, and professional.
Mang Nestor also has a strong faith in God.
“Ang pinaka-importante sa lahat bago ka mag-umpisa magtrabaho, ang bunga niyan, hindi akin. Bigay lang sa akin ng Panginoong Diyos yan. Maski anong gawin ko, maski anong training ko, kung hindi kaloob ng Diyos, kung hindi ka hihingi ng awa, ewan. At kung nagtanim ka at hindi mo sinamahan ng malasakit at pag-ibig, hindi ka magkaka-ani. Pagkatanim mo, pabayaan mo, hindi ka makakapagpabunga. Kaya kailangan diyan ay alagaan mo.”