CASTILLA, SORSOGON — While many families locked their homes and municipalities and cities closed their borders in an instinctive effort to protect themselves against COVID-19, in the spirit of solidarity, members of the Rural Improvement Club (RIC) of Brgy. San Roque in this municipality opened their communal garden to feed their community.

“Umpisa pa lang po ng quarantine, inopen na namin sa lahat ang communal garden and nagdecide na kami na huwag na muna ibenta para makatulong na din hindi lang sa mga miyembro kundi pati na rin sa iba… Basta magpapaalam lang pag mamimitas,” Joselyn M. Relente, RIC President said in an online interview.

Currently, around 12 families benefit from free vegetables like string beans, eggplant, tomatoes, kangkong, and okra as well as chili and onions planted in the RIC’s 0.5-hectare communal garden, which was intended as one of its livelihood projects. As a way of honoring the frontliners in their locality, the RIC also give them free agricultural products.

Relente also led the intensification of home gardening in their community by improving her backyard garden and personally distributing the vegetable seeds provided by the Department of Agriculture Bicol’s High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) through the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist and Municipal Agriculture Office. According to Relente, over 48 households in her community are now actively engaged in backyard gardening by following her example.  

“Nakita at naramdaman nila yung kahalagahan nang may gulayan sa paligid ng bahay para kahit papaano, may mga masustansyang pagkain para sa pamilya,” she added.

Since February 11, 2015, members of the Rural Improvement Club (RIC) of Barangay San Roque in Castilla, Sorsogon, in coordination with the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist, have been engaged in various livelihood projects like agriculture and product processing, swine fattening, backyard gardening and sari-sari store. Through their hardwork, unity and teamwork, the RIC of Brgy. San Roque’s investments soar from a starting capital of P340.00 generated from their membership fees to P1.2 million within four years. Along with the increase in their assets is the over 50 percent growth in their membership. Thus, the group was adjudged as the 2019 Regional Outstanding Gawad Saka Awardee.

“Sa mga katulad naming kababaihan, tayo po ay hindi lamang para sa loob ng bahay. Hindi man tayo makatulong pagdating sa pinansyal at least sa suporta at pagiging inspirasyon ng bawat isa. Tayo po ay magtanim sa ating mga bakuran dahil mas masarap pong kainin ang mga gulay na tayo mismo ang nagtanim,” Relente added.

Initially supported by the local government unit (LGU) and the Department of Agriculture, the RIC is a rural or barangay-based non-government organization in the Philippines that aims to bring about effective involvement and participation of rural women in home and community projects through participatory and collective efforts. Department of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar recently called on big businesses, seed and fertilizer companies, state universities and colleges (SUCs), and professional organizations in agriculture to adopt a city or town and invest in vegetable gardening, commercial crop production, small ruminant raising and native chicken production to ensure food security amid the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This is a strategy under the P31-billion Plant, Plant, Plant Program designed to massively promote urban and community agriculture to guarantee available and accessible food nationwide. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)