A farmer scientist with a mind and heart for sustainable agriculture

By Emily B. Bordado

Carlito P. Aquino spent 26 years of his life as a military man. Today, he is into a different kind of field and fighting a different kind of battle. For the past three years since his retirement he has gone into farming and is staunchly advocating and promoting organic farming.

Although he was born and reared in a farm family it was only during his stint in Mindanao when he had actually tried his hands in farming .Today, he is back and happily settled in his birthplace in the town of Ocampo in Camarines Sur province and going full time into farming. In 2009, he organized the farmers in his barangay under the name Cagmanaba Association of Neutral Domain for Union Yield of Organic Farmers Group or CAANDUYOG which is also the Bikol term for supporter or partner. From its original 21 members the association has now 71 members. In 2010, he was appointed Magsasaka Siyentista under the Techno Gabay program of PCARRD . He is also a farmer co-operator of the Palayaman project of the Bureau of Agricultural Research and the DA.

At 51, Tio Lito is full of bright and innovative ideas, dynamism and enthusiasm. He has transformed the 3.7 hectare riceland owned by their family into a diversified farm enterprise where he integrates rice, vegetables, fish and fowls applying both science and technological knowhow he had accessed and accumulated through reading, attendance to seminars and trainings, tuning in to the radio and television and through the internet.

A big portion of his farm (2.7 hectares) is devoted to rice production. In one portion of the rice field a techno demo is currently established to showcase Organic Rice Farming through the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technology. This is under the Techno Gabay Program of PCARRD in collaboration with the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) and the LGU of Ocampo. It serves as a community seedbank of traditional lowland rice varieties. The techno demo is now on its 3rd cropping season and the result is very encouraging. For the first cropping Tio Lito was able to harvest 80 cavans in less than a hectare from the SRI demo site.

After attending a seminar sponsored by South East Asia Regional Initiative for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) Tio Lito is convinced that there is a need to institutionalize community initiatives in conserving, developing and using plant genetic resources. He also espouses and supports the promotion of farmer’s seed exchanges and local knowledge systems and the establishment of community agro-biodiversity conservation protection system. He has to date collected 32 traditional rice varieties he obtained from fellow farmers and other institutions. He hopes to propagate these seeds and keep them in a seedbank.

He produces his own organic fertilizers and Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO) using available resources in their locality such as molasses, kangkong, papaya, and kuhol for Fermented Plant and Fruit Juices; rice straw, water lily, Azolla, kakawate, banana trunk, kangkong, corn husk and weeds for composting.

Late last year he started his vermiculture through the help of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) of the DA which provided the vermi or earthworms and technical assistance. Tio Lito said the vermicast or vermin compost are excellent soil enhancer and bio fertilizer for organic farming. He uses biodegradable farm wastes as feed for the vermi such as rice straw, kakawate or madre de cacao, ipil, ipil, corn cobs, rotten papaya, weeds, vegetable leaves and stalks, and fruit peelings. He has also started making vermi tea using the tea brewer provided by the BSWM. He says brewing should be done for 72 hours before they can be used as organic fertilizer for rice and vegetables on his farm.

About one third of his farm he utilized for vegetable production of assorted vegetables like cucumber, pepper, jambalaya, squash, tomato, upo, pole sitao, radish and carrots. The crawling plants are covered and enclosed with bamboo trellises. The vegetable plots are covered with plastic mulch. Tio Lito explains this is to repress weeds, preserve the moisture and prevent the evaporation of important nutrients into the air. His next plan is to set up a green house for non- crawling plants. He had tried hydrophonics on 150 lettuce plants before. But due to unexpected heavy rains at the time the result was not very encouraging.

In another portion of his farm he has made his own innovation of a vegetable – fish culture. In between the plots of vegetables he has established 6 mini ponds measuring 2 x 3 x 2 meters with a depth of 1.5 meters between plots. There is an open pond which connects to all the 6 mini ponds. In these ponds he had stocked 7breeders of Pangasius; 14 pieces Japanese Koi, 3 of which are breeders; 2500 tilapia fingerlings and some carps. Most of the fingerlings he obtained from the BFAR where he also gets information and technical assistance on aquaculture technology.

He said that before he put water and stock fingerlings into the mini ponds he had the base or flooring filled with a layer of sand. Despite the additional expense for the sand fill, he explains that this is to keep the water clear. Without sand-filling at the base he said ponds usually appear murky or muddy and some fingerlings would not stay afloat but would burrow into the soil. Twice a month he usually replaces the water. His source of water is the irrigation canal, a shallow tube well and a creek along the boundary of his farm.

He has 50 ducks, 22 of which were provided by the DA under the Palayaman project, the rest he personally bought from fellow farmers. He also has 25 native chickens – 20 of which are hens or breeders and 5 are roosters. He formulates his own feeds for the fowls with rice and corn as main ingredients.

Through his efforts his association, the CAANDUYOG was able to avail of a flatbed dryer from the PHILMECH. This has now been installed in a portion of his farm and is now being utilized by the farmers in their barangay.

In the middle of his farm he has built an A-frame shaped farm shelter where there are no perpendicular walls. The Roof itself which is made of anahaw leaves is extended downward and serves as the wall. On both sides near the apex of the roof are two dormer windows which allow light to filter in and provides natural ventilation. In designing said structure, Tio Lito has put to use his basic engineering knowledge as he actually spent two years at the college of agricultural engineering at the Camarines Sur State Agriculture College (CSSAC) before he shifted to an AB course in Manila. The shelter sits above a pond where the fishes from the mini ponds could take shelter when the temperature is too hot.

This farm shelter serves as his office, conference hall, and receiving area for visitors. It is also here where he conducts briefings and stores his farm products and memorabilia such as photo albums, instructional CDs and DVDs and other paraphernalia. All other structures in the farm, (i.e. the shed for the vermiculture, and the conference cum office of the CAANDUYOG) have the same design.

His knowledge on business management, capped by a master’s degree he obtained from Ateneo de Davao will now be put to use as he has started earning income from his vegetables, rice seeds (red blondie variety), ducks, and organic fertilizers. He keeps a record of all his farm expenses and sales. He is updated on the prevailing price of agricultural commodities in the market.

His title “Magsasaka Siyentista” is well-deserved because his farm practices are science and technology based. He keeps himself abreast with the latest information through attendance to trainings and constant reading and accessing in the internet, regular consultation with extension workers and experts and frequent tuning in to radio and television programs worth his time. With his laptop in tow even in the farm, he is always attuned to the latest information, issues and developments in agriculture. But with all the advancement in science and technology he believes that the way to the future is through organic farming. He explains: “Para mapangalagaan natin ang ating kalusugan, kapaligiran at masiguro ang kasapatan ng pagkain sa hinaharap dapat bumalik tayo sa organic farming”.

With the income from his farm enterprise Tio Lito is already financially stable and adequately providing the needs of his wife Aileen and only son Christopher Carl who is now pursuing a college degree. But he has many other plans for his farm and for his association. Among them is to have a community seed bank, a network of local seed growers engaged in seed exchange; a village level research center where farmers can conduct simple on-farm trials and basic research.

He is currently preparing a manual on organic farming and intends to also prepare a flyer so he can share his experiences and good practices with other farmers. He plans to establish a green house for non-crawling vegetables. He has coordinated with the Department of Agriculture regarding this. He also plans to establish a pond for freshwater shrimp (Ulang).

He envisions a show case of technologies on organic farming not only for crops and fish but also for livestock. He is now preparing a cage for his organic pig or the no- wash pig using the native breed. For CAANDUYOG, he has already developed a plan for a Village Research Training Center on Organic Farming. He has already procured a lot adjacent to his farm where this center will be erected. He has negotiated with a Japanese group for the construction of the building to be funded by the Japanese government through their GGP program.

He has demonstrated his leadership abilities not only as president of CAANDUYOG but also as head of another association, the Cagmanaba Base Farmer Organization (CABAFO) organized by the Provincial Agriculture Office of Camarines Sur through the EU-PFVAS project and the Municipal Accredited Cassava Organize Farmers Association (MACOFA) organized by the Municipal Agriculture Office of Ocampo and the DA regional office. He was also appointed as Committee Chairman for Agriculture and Mechanization of MAFC and member of the Camarines Sur Organic Agriculture and Industrial Development Council.

Tio Lito is progressive-minded and very much receptive to new technologies, scientific knowledge and good agricultural practices of other farmers and institutions. He is forward-looking but is well grounded and attuned to the realities and current state of the agriculture sector and his fellow farmers. Although he has been receiving a lot of support from the government and other institutions he relies on his own effort and initiatives and motivates his fellow farmers to be self-reliant. He is pro development that is sustainable, ecologically sound and socially acceptable. We need more farmers like him.