LIBMANAN, CAMARINES SUR – Three months after the DA Bicol’s aggressive campaign for food production or Plant, Plant, Plant Program in every household amidst COVID-19 pandemic, vegetable production in backyard and commercial scales shoot up in Camarines Sur.

More households were secured in food while some derived income from selling their surplus produce. Commercial vegetable production, on the other hand faced stiff competition in the local markets but the lockdown during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) provided opportunities to enterprising farmers who brought their produce to the consumers’ doorstep through Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita.

Dr. Mary Grace Rodriguez, regional coordinator of DA Bicol High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) said that the program distributed a total 4,858.7126 kilos of vegetable seeds to households, farmers’ associations and Local Government Units throughout the Bicol region since the beginning of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in mid March.

For Camarines Sur, the HVCDP distributed a total of 2,617.936 kilos of assorted vegetable seeds such as ampalaya, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, upo, squash, sweet potato, pole sitao and other lowland veggies.

In the town of Libmanan, the 75 barangays, received 70 kilos of veggies seeds from the HVCDP, according to Dr. Irma Intia, municipal Agricultural Extension Worker incharge of HVCDP.

One recipient of the veggie seeds is 40-year old Olympia Curioso Garbin. Her approximately 1,000 square meter backyard vegetable garden around their residence in barangay Cuyapi stood out amid the vast golden rice field surrounding it.

Garbin’s backyard teems with eggplant, tomatoes, pepper, pole sitao, and okra heavily laden with fruits. Her husband is cultivating 6 hectares of rice areas, and she is also raising a number of hogs in an organic way. She started planting vegetables in her backyard for her family’s consumption only as she wanted to make sure that the food they eat is safe from chemicals.

“Naging libangan ko na simula noong ECQ ang pagtatanim ng mga gulay at nang mag-umpisa nang mamunga, sobra sobra na sa aming pamilya ang mga gulay. Kaya’t naisipan ko nang mag donate sa mga kabaranggay ko, especially during the lockdown, na hindi sila makalabas para mamalengke,” she added.

Her veggie garden also supported her organic hogs as she combines vegetables with rice bran as hog feeds.

She also learned a lot from Dr. Intia who visited her regularly. She is now producing planting materials of different vegetables she generously shares with interested townfolks. In fact, she already supplied strawberry seedlings to Sonrisa Farm in Magarao, Cam. Sur.

Another recipient of vegetable seeds in Libmanan is Norlanie Torres, 39 years old of barangay Mambayawas. She received seeds of okra, pole sitao, squash and white corn which she planted in March. Her association, the Agri-preneur Farmers’ Association also received a water pump which aided them during the dry months.

Torres was lucky that she was able to sell her corn produce in the market at retail price of P35.00/kilo. Some of her produce such as vegetables were sold to her neighbors and some were for family consumption.

Meanwhile the cluster of commercial vegetable growers in Mambalite, Libmanan also received vegetable seeds.

The wide expanse of vegetable plantations in the open fields and even under coconut trees in Barangay Mambalite truly speaks of its reputation as the vegetable basket of Libmanan.

According to one commercial vegetable producer, Florentino Umali, on a daily basis, their cluster can harvest 3 to 5 tons of eggplant and ampalaya which they sell at the local market, or brought to neighboring towns, Naga City, Albay. Their produce were also transported to Divisoria through the Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita on Wheels operated by the Agri-preneur Farmers and Producers Association Inc. led by its President Robert Buayaban.

Umali was also thankful to the DA HVCDP for the 4WD tractor and water pump granted to his association – Libmanan Vegetable Growers Association.

Eggplant is the dominant crop among the farmers in the Mambalite cluster. Umali is harvesting 1.5 tons up to 2 tons of eggplant per week, but he laments the very low farmgate price of eggplant in Libmanan. It is fortunate if their produce is sold through Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita on Wheels where they can command higher price. But the association has only one hauling truck (a grant from the HVCDP also) which can carry maximum of 2.5 tons. Therefore not all the produce in the cluster area can be accommodated.

The Mambalite cluster of vegetable producers counts on the assistance of the DA Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division in linking them to institutional buyers like malls and restaurants. Luckily, negotiations with them have been started since last year and talks with stakeholders in some Bicol provinces where there is low production of vegetables are also underway. (Lovella P. Guarin / photo credit: Eduardo Collantes, Jr. and Zandra Abogado)