CAMALIG, ALBAY – Bicolano small entrepreneurs offer their bare hands, hearts, experiences  and good practices in  the service of their  fellowmen  to cope with   the looming threat of hunger amid the COVID 19 crisis. A number of them are scaling up their advocacies and farm production activities to contribute in the unified effort to survive and overcome the adverse effects of the crisis.

Delicia’s Farm in Pandan, Catanduanes, a farm tourism site accredited by the Department of Tourism, shifted to 100 percent food production since early March 2020 to contribute to the effort of ensuring  the town’s food security. This over five hectares  farm  owned and operated by Michael Tidon is currently devoted to vegetable, swine, chicken, duck and small ruminant production. An advocate of sustainable agriculture, Tidon rallied the support of the local government unit (LGU) and the entire community of Pandan to engage in seed distribution, massive planting and backyard gardening using surplus seeds from his farm, originally reserved for the next cropping season as well as seeds provided by the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Bicol High Value Crops Development Program through the Catanduanes Hilly Upland Development Station (CHUDS).

“It’s almost like one town working together na iisa yung naging goal na yung food security ng Pandan ay ma-strengthen…Siguro naka-wire sa DNA ng isang magsasaka na sa panahon ng kagutuman talagang dapat meron kaming kailangang gawin,” Tidon said in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, in Ligao City, Albay, the JoRoss Farm, a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)-accredited organic agriculture learning site initiated a seed sharing campaign on social media using the farm’s surplus seeds and those given by the DA through the Albay Provincial Agricultural Office (APAO). In support of the agency’s Plant, Plant, Plant Program, as of April 27, 2020, JoRoss Farm, owned and operated by Jose and Rossini Obligacion, distributed about 250 repacked petchay, string beans (sitaw), sponge gourd (patola), okra, chili (sili), and pole beans seeds for 250 families in Ligao City and Bacacay, Albay for backyard and container gardening. Also, they offered free bottle gourd (upo), tomato (kamatis), cucumber (pipino), squash (kalabasa), and kangkong seeds and seedlings to more or less 80 neighbors, walk-in clients and social media followers. Moreover, the Obligacion couple share informative and instructional videos produced by them to entertain and at the same time orient their 1,375 social media followers on various agriculture-related topics including the advantages of producing organic vegetables and animals and the benefits of medicinal and culinary herbs. Using a messaging application, they also monitor their beneficiaries’ progress.

“That thing, na-empower namin sila, na-encourage namin sila na kaya kami na-inspire kasi niyakap namin yung programa ng gobyerno kasi nakakatulong pala yun… Yung simpleng buto lang ang nabigyan ka, pag tinanim mo, sobra-sobra yung output,” Jose Obligacion said in a phone interview.

Furthermore, the Obligacion family massively planted vegetables and rootcrops in their 1.8-hectare farm to boost its productivity during the lockdown.

In Sto. Domingo, Albay, Alberto’s Farm, owned and operated by Alberto Borras, also engaged in massive vegetable planting to contribute to his community’s food security. He generated jobs by employing 10 laborers in his farm for the said purpose. With the help of his daughter Nizel, a government employee, Borras sells his produce at a lower price to support online resellers and traders in Legazpi City.

“Madaming nagtatanong kung bakit masyadong mababa ang presyo namin, yun kasi ang kabilin-bilinan ko sa mga anak ko—mas mababang presyo para abot-kaya. Kasi walang pera ang mga tao at para na din makaya ng mga reseller na ibenta din sa mas reasonable price. Yun na lang din tulong namin,” Borras said in a phone interview.

Currently, the two-hectare Alberto’s Farm produces an abundant harvest of melon, bitter gourd (ampalaya), chili, string beans, vegetables and palay.

In Gubat, Sorsogon, Tata Celso Farm is intensifying its advocacy on Integrated and Diversified Organic Farming (IDOF) through the “Quarantanim” campaign, which uses social media in encouraging the community to engage in urban and rooftop container gardening. The three-hectare Tata Celso Farm is also into organic fertilizer production, vermiculture, bee-keeping, composting, and rabbitry. In addition, farm owner and operator Celso Espinola supports 114 members of the Gubat Organic Advocate and Practitioners Organization (GOAPO), Bagacay Cabungahan Farmers Association (BACFA), and Gubat Young Farmers Association (GYFA) in adopting IDOF practices.

“Nakikita nila kung papaano ako magharvest, sa gayon naeengganyo rin sila kung paano gawin at nagpapaturo sila sa akin. Ang iba naman, bumibili sa akin ngayon ng garden soil para magtanim sila tapos humihingi ako sa DA ng mga seeds, pinapatubo ko, at binibigyan ko na lang sila… Advocacy ko po talaga ang organic farming, na mapangalagaan ang kalikasan tapos ma-sustain lahat yung ating mga pangangailangan sa pagkain,” Espinola said in a phone interview.

Pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 33 issued on May 21, 1989, May is declared as Farmers and Fisherfolk Month.

In a photo release published in Department of Agriculture-Philippines’ Facebook account on May 1, 2020, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar honored all Filipino farmers and fisherfolk saying “Maraming salamat po sa lahat ng magsasaka at mangingisdang Pilipino na patuloy na nagsusumikap upang maseguro na may pagkaing sapat sa lahat ng hapag sa buong bansa. Sa panahon ngayon, ramdam namin ang inyong sakripisyo bilang mga FRONTLINERS, kaya naman kaisa ninyo ang Department of Agriculture sa kampanya tungo sa sapat na pagkain. Mabuhay po kayo.” (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)