Organic farming and ‘bayanihan’ help farmers conquer hunger

He has bounced back and is now able to feed the four children who are still living with him. More than that, he has become one of  the star members of a group called MASIPAG, and his farm is now a model of organic and diversified farming. The word “masipag” literally means “hardworking,” but it is also an acronym for Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (in English, farmer-scientist partnership for the development of agriculture), a group advocating sustainable agriculture.

Eunie’s crops — rice, corn and a variety of vegetables — are farmed organically. No fertilizers. Instead, he uses animal manure, compost from decayed organic matters from his farm, and similar concoctions. But he has even developed his own varieties of rice and corn that, unlike those sold by big agricultural companies, do not rely on fertilizers and chemicals for pest control. This means doing the long and intricate process of breeding, getting minute reproductive parts of the plants and experimenting with them.

“It’s not easy developing a new variety. It may take you up to three and a half years of painstaking experimentation before a new breed stabilizes,” Eunie said in Cebuano. (The Geraldos are originally from Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte, but left the place when war erupted there in the early 1970s.) His favorite rice variety now is AGE-4, an acronym of his and his wife’s name, and their surname. It is the fourth in a batch of five “siblings” of one of his breeding experiments. It is the reddish kind of rice city dwellers would love but many could not afford. And since the rice was manually milled at home, it is t “unpolished,” with the bran still intact and thus, rich in vitamins and minerals.

Going organic, for Eunie, is being one with nature, and respecting God’s creations.

“Why would you use pesticides and kill those insects? They’re God’s creations!” He vouches that, with his concoctions of sorts, he could command the ants to drive away pests from his crops.

And because he does not spray chemicals that would kill all insects in the farm, the predator insects become the farmer’s ally, driving away the pests.

For Eunie, organic farming is not just doing something good to the environment by not polluting the earth with toxic chemicals. It is also doing good for mankind, his children especially.

“With the known toxic components in fertilizers and pesticides that are harmful to humans, why would one deliberately feed people with poison-laced food?” he asked.

Organic farming goes with added bonus of avoiding indebtedness for the purchase of rice or corn seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. “Many Filipino farmers are indebted all their lives,” said Victorino Carillo, a MASIPAG organizer who has worked with farmers for three decades. “They even pass the indebtedness to their children. It’s really a miserable situation,” he added.

The Geraldo home sits in the middle of a five-hectare farm with no neighbors in sight or within shouting distance. But the Geraldo farm is so productive that the family could survive with nothing but just the produce of the farm. The peso could plunge against the dollar, and fuel prices could go through the roof and still the Geraldo family would not feel the crunch.

Well, almost, because sometimes, Eunie would buy kerosene for the lamps. But it should be easy for him to find substitutes in the mountains to brighten the dark evenings. A few times, when he wants to give his daughters a break from household chores, he would go to a neighboring village, half a sack of palay (paddy rice) on his shoulder for the long walk, and  have it milled by machine instead of the girls pounding on them with wooden mortar and pestle every afternoon.

It helps that aside from going organic full-fledged, he has also embraced what MASIPAG calls  the diversified integrated farming system, or DIFS. Though only three hectares of his farm have been developed for now, it has an assortment of vegetables as well as some animals like cows, chickens, goats, and ducks. He even has small fishponds that grow tilapia. All these eat what is available in the farm — grass, waste from milling rice, and leftover food — so there is no added expense for Eunie. Instead, he gets additional income.

For the family’s usual meal, his children would go out and pick vegetables, catch fish, or Eunie would slaughter a chicken. Because Tumigbong is so remote a village with no electricity to light up homes or  refrigerate vegetables, the Geraldos eat the freshest food.

They are also lucky that natural spring water abound in Eunie’s farm, the source just a stone’s throw away from his house. It is so clean and ready for drinking. And Eunie has rolled out pipes from the source to his home.

Eunie’s sons Daniel and Jun-jun, both in their early 20s and the eldest of the kids, wanted life in the city, so they are now working in neighboring Cagayan de Oro. The four youngest children, all girls, are still living with their father. Eunelyn, 19, is in fourth year in a nearby state-run high school. Mary, 16, opted to temporarily quit school and stay at home to babysit Lourdes, who calls her “te-ya,” short for “Ate” (Filipino term for elder sister) and “Yaya” (nanny). Rowena is in sixth grade.

The girls help their father do the lighter work at the farm, like removing the weeds between the rice and corn stalks. They are also so skilled at chores in a farm household that watching them separate the rice hull from the kernel with a circular movement of the nigo, a tray-like rice container made of bamboo splits, is awe-inspiring.

But the Geraldos are lucky they belong to a community of farmers who still adhere to the “bayanihan” system — a Filipino trait of helping each other. A classic bayanihan example is when all the able-bodied men in the neighborhood would help a family lift and move their house to a new location, for free. The house owner’s obligation is just to provide food for everybody.

In the case of Eunie’s farm, he would not have enough manpower during planting and harvest time. He also does not have the money to pay for hired labor. But because of the bayanihan, the farmers’ community in Tumigbong can readily get each other’s help.

Sad to say, very few practice bayanihan now.

Carillo, with his vast experience working with farmers, said bayanihan started to disappear in the mid-1960s with the introduction of “green revolution” all over the world, and with it came the mechanization of the farm, the entry of high-yielding varieties of various crops, as well as fertilizers and pesticides.

“Since one has to spend to get farm machineries, and needs to buy fuel for it to run, he could not just lend it out to neighbors for free,” Carillo explained as he praised the use of the ever reliable carabao that thrives only on grass. Farmers, too, now have to spend for farm inputs, like seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides. “Before, they did not have to spend for these. So now, farmers need the extra cash, and many of them began working in others’ farms for a fee,” Carillo lamented.

Fortunately, some remote areas in the Philippines still practice the bayanihan since the green revolution has not penetrated these areas.

Carillo also noted the revival of the bayanihan with the entry of organic farming these past few years because farmers, once again, need not spend so much on the farm inputs.

The modern bayanihan spirit is best exemplified in a village called Sinangkangan in the municipality of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

The Nolasco family was to plant rice in a farm one hectare big. With just short notice, 30 or so men and women, teenagers and even a nine-year-old girl, came to help. The women prepared the seedlings as the men finished off the land preparation work and did the actual planting.

Valeriano Santillan, a farm technician from MASIPAG helping the Palimbang farmers in their transition to organic farming, estimates that hiring all those farmers for the planting may cost the family upwards of P3,500. But because of the bayanihan, the family just slaughtered a pig and offered lunch to all those who helped, the neighbors even helping in the cooking.

But the bayanihan means more than just monetary savings for the farmers. It is also strengthening the bond among neighbors, where everybody gets to know everybody, where each member of the community is responsible for the well being of everyone. (Bobby Timonera/MindaNews)