DONSOL, SORSOGON – “Opportunities don’t happen, you create them”. Chris Grosser was right when he said that.

A lot of opportunities came to the Tres Marias Drive Vegetable Growers Association (TMDVGA) when the initial 28 farmers were organized by the implementers of the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) on June 2, 2020 as TMDVGA.

Barely eight months in existence, the association is now a trailblazer in barangay Tres Marias and even in Donsol town. The association President Mr. Manuel Alim who is a degree holder in Agriculture conceptualized and implemented various strategies to help members sell their produce amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“May mga members kami na matagal nang nagtatanim at malalawak ang taniman. Pero ang problema nila ay halos hingiin na lang ng mamimili ang mga gulay sa baba ng presyo ng buyers. Kaya nag put up kami ng Weekend Market noong Sept 5, 2020. Binibili namin ang mga ani ng aming members sa rasonableng presyo at yun ay direkta na tinitinda namin sa TMDVGA vegetable stall para hindi na dumaan sa middlemen,” explained Alim.

The association is also engaged in value adding activities such as making pickles, turmeric powder (turmeric tea), and tableya de cacao. “Para hindi masayang ang mga gulay o prutas na deformed o iba ang sukat at hindi pumasa sa quality inspection, ginagawa naming pickles. Malaki ang kita sa processing. Ang benta namin ng raw na cucumber ay P40.oo per kilo. Samantalang ang 1 bote ng pickled cucumber ay nabebenta namin ng P100.00 per bottle.

“Base sa records namin, ang average na total na dinadala ng member growers namin ay 250 kilos na gulay at ang pinakamataas na daily sales namin ay P10,000.00,” Alim added.

To boost their volume of production, they tied up with other vegetable farmers associations in Donsol such as Small Farm Progress Organization in Sitio Panangquilon which offered their produce such as cucumber which they use as raw materials in the production of pickles.

President Alim also envisions their 500 square meter communal garden to be a show window and a learning site, to facilitate transfer of technology from technical experts to the farmers, and to serve as seed bank where farmers can get readily available seeds of commercially indemand vegetables and fruits.

When asked on specific technologies he wants to impart to other farmers, Alim enumerated the following: 1. Use of mechanized equipment to lower labor cost. 2. Mulching. 3. Soil rejuvenation and organic agriculture. 4. Use of postharvest facilities and storage of produce. 5. Processing of surplus. Kadiwa on Wheels is a marketing strategy he also wants to adopt to command equitable price for their produce.

A religious sector in Donsol requested a seminar on vegetable production. After the seminar, Alim plans to provide the group with vegetable seeds, seedlings and seedling tray.

After the onslaught of three strong typhoons in Bicol in November 2020, the TMD doubled up their vegetable production as they know vegetable supply will dwindle. They are now selling their products online through social media.

They used their savings from selling vegetables and processed foods to establish a mini training center which now serves as venue of their meetings and trainings. Some groups and individuals who witnessed the TMDVGA members’ hardwork have been inspired to help their cause and donated numerous bags of cement and laptop which they now use in training other farmers.

“Ang gobyerno po ay napaka-supportive sa ating magsasaka sa ngayong panahon. Bigyan natin ng pagpapahalaga ang mithiin ni Secretary William Dar. Nagpapasalamat po kami kay DA 5 Regional Executive Director and SAAD Program Director Rodel P. Tornilla at sa SAAD dahil nabigyan kami ng pansin,” Alim said.

In June 2020 they received the SAAD Vegetable Production Package consisting of vegetable seeds, organic fertilizer, drums, garden tools, plastic tray, HDPE pipes, wheelbarrow, plastic mulch, knapsack sprayer, planting materials of rambutan and lemon, rootcrop cuttings and cassava seed pieces. Another vegetable production and entrepreneurship development package will be given to TMDVGA this year.

Dr. Mary Grace Rodriguez, Bicol SAAD Action Officer said that a total of 44 Farmers’ Associations (FAs) of SAAD beneficiaries composed of at least 30 farmers like the TMDVGA were organized by SAAD in Sorsogon since 2018. These FAs are engaged in various enterprises such as corn and cassava processing, peanut butter making, molido candies, pili favored squash molido, salted egg with different flavors and herbal soap making. Six FAs were given rice production packages and 30 FAs were given high value crops production packages.

Since 2018, SAAD has helped and trained farmers in the remote areas of target provinces on rice and corn production and value adding, high value crops development, livestock, and organic agriculture production. The beneficiaries who have been identified and profiled in 2018 are still being supported by SAAD up to this time. In each year of SAAD implementation, new beneficiaries are also being identified and given complete packages of interventions.

SAAD Focal Person of Bicol Luz R. Marcelino said that as of December 31, 2020, SAAD in partnership with the Office of the Provincial Agriculture Offices and Municipal Agriculture Offices has delivered various agricultural interventions that has benefitted 108 farmers associations and 2,212 individual farmer beneficiaries in the Bicol region. (Lovella P. Guarin/ with reports from Mary Rose Detera of SAAD Sorsogon / photo credit: Mark Barja)