by: Johanna Marie F. Drece
“Napakamura na nga ng benta mo tapos babaratin ka pa,” said the frustrated farmer, Mang Nestor.
Just like any other small-scale farmer in Los Baños, Laguna, 65-year old Nestor Pamulaklakin of Brgy. Maahas wants to earn the appropriate amount of money that he thinks he deserves for growing and tending the organic vegetables. However, he is powerless when it comes to the demands for cheaper price of his customers.
For example, he wants to sell his organic petchay for five pesos per bundle; each bundle has three average-sized petchay. However, he never seems to sell them that way because customers pushes him to sell his vegetables for an unreasonable price of two to three pesos per bundle.
“Sa kagustuhang magkapera ng mahirap na magsasaka, kahit mura ibinibigay,” he said.
The problem, he pointed out, was the lack of standard protocol for the prices of organic produce in the community. He said that this is not just his struggle, but also of most small-scale organic farmers in Los Baños. Adelaida Calizo, Mang Nestor’s 85-year old co-farmer from Sityo Ibaba, affirms his stand in a separate interview.
Nanay Adeling agreed that most of the time, the price that the consumers demand is far below the real worth of the organic vegetables. She knows she could earn more than what she is earning now if only there is a more accessible market where their organic vegetables can be sold at a strictly prescribed uniform price.
To answer this problem, a mini-market has been set up beside the front steps of the municipal building. Dubbed as the Los Baños Friday Organic Market (LBFOM), this venue has been set up in November 2014 as a market place for the vegetable products of the farmer participants of a project about organic vegetables farming implemented by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) in partnership with Gender and Development Office Los Baños-Local Government Unit (GAD LB-LGU).
The LBFOM is very strategic for those who want to buy organic vegetables because of its place in the municipal building. The problem here, according to the farmers, is their incapability to access the market to sell their goods in the LBFOM because most of them live far from the municipal building.
For Nanay Adeling whose farm is situated in the far flung community of Sityo Ibaba, delivering the vegetables to the LBFOM is very challenging.
“Sa edad kong ito, kaya ko pang magsibak ng kahoy at mag-farm. Pero magpasan ng kilu-kilong upo, ampalaya, sitaw, talong, at iba pa kada Biyernes papunta sa munisipyo? Nahihirapan na ako ‘neng,” she said as her voice quivered.
She says that delivering organic vegetables to the municipal building is difficult because she does not have a vehicle to directly deliver her vegetables from her farm to the LBFOM, 2) she has to manually carry all of her goods from her farm to the highway which has a distance of more than one kilometer, and 3) she cannot afford to pay a very pricey tricycle fare from the highway of Sityo Ibaba to the municipal office.
LB-LGU and PCAARRD’s solution
To address this problem, the GAD LB-LGU in partnership with PCAARRD, has drafted a new program on March 23, 2015 anchored to its current project regarding organic vegetables farming. The program is comprised of newly introduced seminar that is geared to focus on marketing.
This new program is in line with the future expansion of their current 15-month project entitled “Enhancing Gender Sensitive Agriculture and Aquatic Science-and-Technology-Based Livelihood Enterprises in Los Baños: PCAARRD-LGU Collaboration”. This project was first implemented in March 2014 with initially 25 farmer participants from each of barangay Maahas, Timugan, Bagong Silang, and Tuntungin-Putho.
As of March 5, 2015, a total of 113 vegetable farmers are identified as the participants of the project. Thirty-two of which are from Bagong Silang, 16 from Maahas, 25 from Timugan, and 40 from Tuntungin-Putho. With the set expansion of the project, more people from the different barangays will be granted the opportunity to learn how to farm organically and to build their own small-scale farming business.
The project implementation of the said expansion is targeted to be done in August 2015 after the project ends in June in the same year. Karen Mercado, Officer-in-Charge of GAD LB-LGU, said that the project will have a two-month hiatus to give the officers rest after the first wave of successful implementation.
Free Organic Certification
According to Mercado, Ecoland Executive Director Rafael Barroso has voluntarily pledged to grant the organic farmers with free organic certification before 2015 ends.
On normal occasions, it will take P30,000-P40,000 for just one crop to be certified as “organic” because of the cost of the tests each crop needs to undergo to see if it passes the strict scientific standards of the Organic Certification Board.
This free organic certification is important because it is needed to strengthen the credibility of the farmers in terms of their competency in producing organic vegetables.
The farmers are currently producing more than 10 kinds of vegetables, the most popular ones being ampalaya, upo, sitaw, eggplant, onion, tomato, among others. Reymuel Salongkong, a licensed agriculturist from PCAARRD, said that it would be very costly for PCAARRD and GAD to accomplish the certification themselves.
“Sobrang mahal talaga kapag tayo ang magababayad sa pagpapa-certify ng bawat gulay. Pang-bahay kubo ang gulay natin dito sa organic [vegetables farming project] eh – halos lahat meron,” he attempted a joke referring to the popular folk song entitled Bahay Kubo where various Filipino vegetables are mentioned.
Through the generosity of Dr. Barroso, the organic vegetables farming will be saving a large amount of money. The funds can now be channeled to other programs that will build up the farming businesses of the farmers such as that of Mang Nestor and Nanay Adeling, among others.
The Marketing Program
“Marketing? Malaking maitutulong niyan sa farmer!” Mang Nestor agreed.
Through the benefits of free organic certification, the marketing program has acquired a fixed place under the expansion of the ongoing project.
The marketing program has been planned to focus on the strategies that are suitable to the knowledge, skills, and practice of the farmers.
The project implementers say that this is not enough for the farmers to only consider the price of vegetables in the public market in deciding the price they will impose on their own goods. In the marketing program the GAD staff is formulating, farmers will be oriented with the actual worth of their produce.
They will be taught to compute for the selling price of their own vegetables relative to 1) the money that they are spending for the production of their home-made organic farm inputs, 2) transportation fee from their farms to the market where they sell their organic vegetables, 3) competition with other sellers in the public market, and finally 4) the congruency of the quality of their produce to their desired price.
According to Mang Nestor, the marketing program will help farmers such as himself to gain a better insight about the value of their products and how they can use this to improve their profit in their own small-scale businesses.
Another benefit, he says, is price control. He said that even the consumers who were so used to demanding for very cheap prices might even change their behaviour once they are confronted with the new set of marketing skills that they will learn from the marketing program.
‘Farmers’ to ‘Farmer-Entrepreneurs’
Before, Mang Nestor only knew about using chemicals as the means to grow plants and vegetables effectively. However, when he found the opportunity to adapt an organic method of farming, he said that he went ahead and was very enthusiastic to learn.
Mang Nestor presently experiences a lot of great benefits from organic farming. He said that even if the profit is not much, he is still thankful because of the numerous benefits that he is enjoying out of working as an organic farmer.
“Unang-una dyan ay yung exercise ko kasi senior citizen na ako,” he said.
As the previous president of the community of senior citizens of Brgy. Maahas, Mang Nestor said that inactivity is the main cause of speedy health degradation among the senior citizens in their community today, and he wants to help them overcome it.
Secondly, he said that he is enjoying his life very much because he has found something that he is passionate in doing.
“Natutuwa akong nakikita ko yung halaman kong unti-unti siyang lumalaki hanggang sa magbunga siya. Naliligayahan akong makita silang masigla at malusog sa pag-aalaga ko,” he said cheerily as he gestures towards his vegetables.
Mang Nestor also said because of his small organic farm, his family’s everyday expenditure is reduced. More than profiting from his organic products, he said that the needs of his family is his number one priority in terms of vegetable supply.
“Kahit bumagyo, meron at meron talaga kaming nakakain dahil sa farm ni asawa. Hindi kami nawawalan. Malaki ang pasalamat ko sa Diyos dahil kahit malaki ang pamilya namin, lahat kami ay nakakakain,” Primitiva Pamulaklakin, Mang Nestor’s wife, said.
Most of all, Mang Nestor pointed out that his business is something that he treasures because of the health benefits that he is able to enjoy from his organic produce. He pointed out that it brings him priceless peace when he knows that what he shares to his family is chemical-free and healthy.
“Masarap talaga sa pakiramdam kapag nailalayo mo ang mga mahal mo sa buhay sa kapahamakan. Panatag ako na ang kinakain ng mga mahal ko sa buhay ay masustansya at ligtas sa masasamang kemikal,” he said while looking towards his grandchildren who were playing energetically in the farm.
Mang Nestor is just one of the tens of farmers whose lives have been changed through the shared information technology about how to farm organically and how it could be a source of livelihood. The inspiring change happening in their lives serves as an encouragement for their partner institutions to improve their services and expand the project.
According Mercado, the scientists of PCAARD and the staff of GAD are thrilled to see the remarkable change that occurs in the lives of their current farmer participants ever since the project started.
Salongkong said that a large portion of their participants today are senior citizens who first doubted if they can still be effective in participating in the program. However, as the project progressed, they found out that running an organic farming business does not require efforts that are as tedious as the activities in the conventional method of farming. For example, they do not need to spray harmful pesticides to their vegetables which cause adverse effect on their deteriorating health as seniors. This encouraged them to continue on the path of organic farming.
This, according to Mercado, is their team’s motivation in improving the project and reaching out to more people in Los Baños – the positive development that the program brings to the lives of the farmers in Los Baños who were previously neglected, unappreciated, and ignored by majority of the society.
“Sino ba sila para sa lipunan?” she asked, implying that the people know very little about these farmers who give us our daily supply of vegetables.
At first, the farmers were very difficult to persuade to participate in the project because of their previous experiences regarding previous government livelihood projects.
“Sirang-sira na ang tingin nila sa gorbyerno. Kinailangan talaga naming magbahay-bahay para kausapin sila ng personal at para makuha yung loob nila,” she said.
Today, the project implementers are careful not to do the same mistakes as before. GAD, together with PCAARRD, is going to push through the project expansion to involve more farmers in organic farming and to sustain the current growing demand for organic vegetables. They are working hard to device new strategies to improve their project – one way is by adding seminars and trainings about marketing to the set of new topics to be taught to the farmers.
“As long as na-itransfer namin yung technology at nagagamit nila iyon para sa ikabubuti ng sarili nilang buhay, masaya na kami. Yun naman talaga yung trabaho namin dito eh,” she said.
True enough, GAD and PCAARRD has given a renewed hope to a lot of small-scale farmers. They have learned the new methods of organic farming and were able to make use of it to elevate themselves from the poverty line.
With the end of the 15-month program fast approaching, what the farmers need to look out for is how the project will continue to empower them in order to serve the community through providing healthy organic vegetables and how it will be able to reach out to more people in Los Baños.
Mang Nestor and Nanay Adeling are hopeful, and they have every reason to be.