After 10 years of supporting the college education of deserving children of farmers/fisherfolk, the DA Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund – Grants-In-Aid for Higher Education Program (DA ACEF-GIAHEP) in Bicol have already produced 262 young graduates.

One graduate under DA ACEF-GIAHEP is Sherwin M. Baja from Del Gallego, Camarines Sur. “Ito pong ACEF scholarship ang naging daan para makatapak ako sa college dahil sa hirap ng buhay namin. Pito po kaming magkakapatid at ako lang po ang nakatapos ng college – at yan po ay dahil sa ACEF,” Sherwin said.

Sherwin is 28 years old now. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2015 from CBSUA, with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture major in Entomology. When he took the Licensure Examination for Agriculturists (LEA) in 2016, he was the 10th placer among the 32% passers of the examinees from all over the country.

At first Sherwin was reluctant when he was offered with the scholarship for an agriculture course after he graduated as valedictorian in High School. But he was persuaded finally after realizing that ACEF was his only ticket to college. In the end he fell in-love with the Agriculture course and how it has changed his life. “Napakalaking tulong po ng free tuition, book allowance at stipend. Ang pag-aaral ay hindi lang naman po about buying books at pangangailangan sa school, kailangan ko din kumain araw-araw. Malayo po ako sa bahay dahil 4 na oras ang byahe mula Del Gallego patungong Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) sa Pili, Camarines Sur. Ayaw sana akong payagan ni Mama, umiiyak siya dahil magugutom daw ako. Salamat po talaga sa stipend ng ACEF na sumagot sa pang-araw-araw na pagkain ko sa school noon” added Sherwin.

After graduation in 2015, Sherwin first worked as a Research Assistant in the CBSUA Regional Apiculture Center. He has also worked as part-time instructor in the CBSUA College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. After earning a Master’s Degree in Plant Protection major in Entomology, he was appointed as permanent faculty in the CBSUA. Sherwin is currently employed at the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture as Review Center Director and Adviser of the University Supreme Student Council.

He hopes that his fellow youth will see the importance of agriculture. “Nakita ko po na napaka-importante ng agriculture lalong lalo ngayong may pandemic dahil nagkukulang na tayo sa pagkain. Sana magkaroon sila ng passion sa agrikultura,” Sherwin enthused.

Another scholar of ACEF-GIAHEP is Cristy A. Benarao of Labo, Camarines Norte. She is 25 years old now. She also graduated Cum Laude in 2017 with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness from the Camarines Norte College of Arts and Business in Bagong Silang 2, Labo, Camarines Norte. She will be finishing her Masters Degree in Public Administration at CNSC in June. She is currently working as Scholarship Coordinator at the Camarines Norte College of Arts and Business.

“In behalf po ng mga co-scholars ko, very thankful po kami sa DA dahil 23 po kaming nagtapos noong 2017 at lahat po kami ay ACEF scholars,” Cristy quipped.

“In-demand po dito sa amin sa Cam. Norte ang agriculture courses dahil agriculturists ang nagpapakain sa mga tao sa ibang propesyon. Sa kursong Agribusiness, pwede akong mag-establish ng sarili kong business. Pero sa ngayon nais ko po munang mag-empleyo’ Cristy added.

Cristy is also an instructor at the Ciudad Callente Livelihood Farm – an ATI and TESDA –accredited learning site. She is one of the instructors for the competencies leading to complete TESDA programs, such as Organic Concoctions and Extracts Production leading to Organic Agriculture Production NC II; Plant Crops leading to Agricultural Crops Production NC II; and Control Weeds leading to Agricultural Crops Production NC III.

Marquedeo H. Sarucam from Camarines Norte is also an ACEF scholar. He finished Bachelor in Agricultural Technology at the Camarines Norte State College in Talisay, Cam. Norte. He is currently working in a feed manufacturing company.

Meanwhile, two Area Coordinators of Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program of DA in Bicol are also ACEF scholars. Dave Villanueva from Masbate City and Mark Cristobal from Mandaon, Masbate both graduates of Dr. Emilio B. Espinosa Sr. State College of Agriculture and Technology (DEBESMSCAT) with Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering degree in 2017. The two are currently assigned at Masbate Center for Livestock Development.

The DA’s ACEF-GIAHEP grants college scholarship to incoming freshman students who will enroll in recognized programs in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, veterinary medicine, education and related agricultural education programs.

Dr. Edgar R. Madrid, Regional Technical Director for Research and Regulations and Regional Coordinator of ACEF – GIAHEP in Bicol said that there are 302 scholars currently enrolled in various State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) or Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) regionwide. In Bicol, 598 youths have already been enrolled as scholars under ACEF-GIAHEP. (Lovella P. Guarin – DA RAFIS 5)