By Emily B. Bordado

Mhina Peñaflorida, who hails from barangay Hibao, Ocampo in Camarines Sur is ingenious, versatile, resilient, industrious and passionate in everything that she does. She could easily adapt to many situations and have varied inherent and acquired skills which she has found practical applications to a variety of situations even amidst odds and difficulties she has encountered in life.

Like many other farmers she is still coping with the adverse effects of COVID-19 and the devastation wrought by the successive typhoons last year. On the personal side she is still grieving over the demise of her husband who succumbed to cardiac arrest also last year. “Nag pondo muna ako magtrabaho digdi sa farm for about two months after the death of my husband. Pero sabi ngani dapat tuloy and buhay kahit ano mang dumating na bagyo sa buhay.” she shared.

Today, Mhina is moving on and is ready to face whatever challenges may still come her way. Living up to the meaning of her name Mhina, she is a delightful person and pleasant to talk with. She is again in her usual self – bubbly, full of energy and bright ideas for her farm. She was among the first to avail of the loan from the DA–ACPC under the Financial Assistance for Women in Agriculture & Fisheries or Agripinay whose livelihood had been affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. Just a few months after the devastating typhoons and the storm in her personal life Mhina’s farm is again vibrant, colorful and teeming with various crops.

The 2.5 hectare farm she is tending with the help of her son is located on the slopes of Mt. Isarog in the upland barangay of Gatbo owned by a friend but which she has developed into a diversified farm. The farm which is now attracting visitors is a sight to behold – a patchwork of ornamental and flowering plants, herbs in myriad colors interspersed with vegetables, root crops, spices and other edibles in rows and in tiers or terraced like fashion.

She has a little of almost any crop planted in clusters. Some plots of lettuce, strawberries, radish, spring onions, okra, basil, sweet potato, cassava, squash, peanuts, cucumber, upland kangkong, tomatoes, red cardinal grapes.

The farm is also abloom with flowering plants and other ornamentals which not only give color to the farm but also serve as pests repellant such as marigold, zenia, Malaysian mumps, mayanas, celosia, red violet balls and herbs such as artamisa, malvarosa and aloe vera, blue ternate and many others. There was a time when it was also teeming with sunflowers.

On the upper tier of the farm she planted corn while on the uppermost tier over a hundred dragon fruits are likewise planted in rows intercropped with eggplants and queen pineapple along the borders.

Farther up she also planted cacao. Before the typhoons she has about 800 cacao plants including the Criollo variety or white cocoa beans but only about 500 were left which are now beginning to bear fruits. An active member of the Bicol Cacao Growers Association, she is engaged in cacao beans processing and among her products are: tablea chocolate, choco peanut spread, cacao sandwich spread, cacao nibs, and chocolate bitter sweet. She has also processed malunggay powder and rice brew. These products which carries the brand Mhina, she sells to friends and acquaintances by order through on-line or she personally goes around government and private offices to sell them. Before the pandemic she also actively participated in agri-fairs and special events not only in their municipality but also in Naga City and other places where she promotes and sells her products and also establishes linkage with fellow entrepreneurs and clients.

Not only has Mhina a green thumb. She is endowed with a great sense of inventiveness. She loves to experiment and try things out. Although she had no formal training in agriculture she has been keenly observing the peculiarities and interrelationships of each plant including the behavior and cycle of the pests that threaten the crops. She for example observed that the pechay plants are prone to and attracting too many pests so she decided to forego planting this leafy vegetable.

She started developing the farm in 2019 planting strawberry made popular in their municipality by a young farmer Leo Libreja where she bought her first strawberry seedlings. But her first attempt was not successful as most of the strawberry seedling died despite all her efforts to save them. Not easily discouraged, she bought again planting materials and made her own experiment.

To ensure she has a fall back in case the strawberry production would fail again she intercropped lettuce. She planted the Sylvia green and red rapids lettuce varieties which are fast growing and are not too delicate or sensitive to too much sunlight. She harvests about 15 kilos weekly which she sells at P300 per kilo.

Her second try in strawberry production was a success. Initially she was able to sell 2,000 bags of seedlings from runners which she sold at P50 per bag thus, giving her a gross income of P100,000. The strawberry fruits she harvested she processed into jams which also gave her additional income.

Mhina is also an active member of the Gender-Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women or GREAT Women Project funded by the Canadian government which seeks to improve the economic empowerment of rural women and their microenterprises. The Department of Agriculture (DA) is one of the partner implementing agencies of the Philippine Commission on Women which oversees the GREAT women project. Through mentoring by experts from PCW and GAD and other institutions facilitated by DA-Bicol GAD program headed by Aloha Gigi Bañaria, Mhina has learned new technologies and best practices in improving her products, including the packaging labeling and marketing of her products.

She is also a member of the Multi-Agriforest Community Development (MAF) Cooperative which supports women small entrepreneurs. She recently enlisted as member of the Omasenso sa Kabuhayan, a project of Vice President Leni Robredo to uplift farmers by making them agri–entrepreneurs. She is also a member of the Camarines Sur Multipurpose Coop.

Her attendance to various training conducted by the DA, the Agricultural Training Institute, TESDA and other agencies has also enhanced her skills and opened up new opportunities for her. Mhina herself is now being tapped as resource person by the DA and other agencies. Her farm was recently evaluated by the Technical Committee for accreditation as an ATI Learning Site for Agriculture. Mhina herself is now being tapped as resource person by the DA.

Aware of the health benefits and income potentials of oyster mushroom she also trained on mushroom production at the DA and established her own mushroom house inside their residential compound in Barangay Hibao. She has produced over 800 fruiting bags of oyster mushrooms and has earned an income of about PhP300 thousand.

She recently started culturing stingless bees right in the farm. She also has some rabbits and several native chicken provided by the DA as assistance during the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Mhina is proud to be called a farmer – because farming has been her passion since she was a child. But she has also varied interests and skills. One of her skills is sewing, the trade which had given her income to send her four children to school. She also processes farm products into various stuff. There was a time when she had brief stint in the Middle East as a domestic helper. But the longing for her family made her decide to return home and go back to farming. And she has no regrets that she has returned to her roots and first love.

“Maski mayo akong natapos na college degree content na ako kung ano igua ako ngonian. Kaipuhan lang mahigos, madiskarte asin may direksiyon. Kung may pangarap ka sa buhay magpupursige ka”, Mhina imparts. “Kung may gusto kang makamit kadakul na paagi ang pwede. Kadakul ang asistensiyang itinatao kan gobyerno pero dapat may sadiri man kitang initiative. Dai dapat i-asa gabos sa gobyerno o sa iba ang satong pag asenso”, Mhina advises her fellow rural women small entrepreneurs.

Mhina is indeed one of the great rural women who inspires because she creates not only beautiful and colorful patchwork quilt from pieces of discarded fabrics as a sewer but also a patchwork of various edible, nutritious crops and multicolored ornamentals, bees and small farm animals in idyllic setting which feed the body and refresh the weary spirits especially in this time of pandemic.