Teaching ’em young how to farm, scientifically

MANOLO FORTICH, Bukidnon (MindaNews / 21 Nov) – While fewer and fewer Filipino youths are going into agriculture with the lure of hi-tech jobs these days, children of a group of farmers advocating organic and sustainable agriculture seem to like following their parents’ footsteps, with some liberating technology added instead of taking the usual path of guaranteed doom.

Lourdes Geraldo, 15, shows her work at the farm in a Powerpoint presentation. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Take the case of 15-year-old Lourdes Geraldo, who grew up in a model sustainable and organic farm in Bukidnon, and John Raymund Jurada, 27, an Electrical Technology graduate who opted to go home to North Cotabato to till the family farm after going around Mindanao for electrical jobs.

Both are children of farmers known for their scientific approach at agriculture, who have taught hundreds of others how to do sustainable agriculture, even doing the highly technical process of breeding rice by themselves to produce high-yielding organic varieties that are able to cope with climate change, instead of perpetually buying seedlings dependent on a host of chemicals.

Diding and Bobit were speakers themselves during last week’s (Nov. 13-15) second general assembly of Agro-Eco Philippines held in its sprawling demo farm in Barangay Maluko of this municipality. Their topic: “Young farmers.”

“We encourage the youth to participate in the farm,” said Valeriano Santillan, chair of the group’s board of trustees. “We need second-liners because farmers in the Philippines are getting old,” he added.

Santillan said he is lucky because one of his children, Jehara, finished agriculture. “I also take time out to teach the youth in the farm,” he added, noting that students often visit his farm in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat to learn about organic and sustainable agriculture.

Geonathan Barro, the organization’s executive director, said they plan to come up soon with a program to attract young people to consider agriculture as a career option.

“It is important for the youth to go into farming because what will happen to the rest of population later if no one will take over?” asked Diding, a Grade 9 student at the San Luis National High School (SLNHS) in Malitbog, Bukidnon. She wants to take up agriculture in college.

Starting at age three, she loved to join her father, Eugenio Geraldo, and elder siblings in their five-hectare farm in the mountains, to help carry a harvest of string beans, to help remove weeds, or feed an assortment of farm animals.

She was not around yet when her father suffered through successive disasters when Eugenio was doing what most Filipino farmers do: monocropping. That is, planting nothing but rice year after year.

Lourdes Geraldo, 15, shows how to breed rice, with guidance from father Eugenio, at the demo farm of Agro-Eco Philippines in Maluko, Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

“He was into conventional farming, heavily indebted, pests continuously attacking his crops,” Diding described what her father went through in her Powerpoint presentation to the 150 or so farmers.

Diding’s mother died giving birth to her. Her father went through depression after that, but attacked his farm with gusto upon rebounding.

It was at this time that Eugenio decided to go organic and implemented a diversified approach at farming, aided by knowledge he gained by participating in seminars held by the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), where his group, the Tumigbong Sustainable Agriculture Farmers Organization (TSAFO), used to be a part of before the formation of Agro-Eco.

After years of hard work, the Geraldo farm has become a model of diversified and integrated farming system (DIFS), often visited by students from near and far wanting to learn Eugenio’s ways.

They have a rice farm, string beans growing on the narrow dikes. They have coconuts and bananas, and underneath these are an assortment of vegetables and herbs. The Geraldos plant corn, too. They have various farm animals–hogs, ducks, chickens. They even have a fishpond.

“When we harvest tilapia, we eat the meat and we ferment the intestines, and use this as spray for our rice and vegetables,” Diding said.

When Diding was nine, her father taught her how to breed rice, a very tedious process tinkering with the almost microscopic parts of the rice panicle.

For farmers in Agro-Eco, they wanted to produce rice seedlings by themselves, of varieties native to their respective areas and thus do not need artificial inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Most Filipino farmers, on the other hand, get their seedlings from commercial companies, according to Diego dela Cruz, of the Sayon Organic Farmers Association in Santa Josefa, Agusan del Sur, considered one of the expert rice breeders in the group.

Diding said it took her five years to master the art of rice breeding. She is so good at it that she taught teachers in school how to breed rice. “Of the seven teachers, two of them continued breeding,” Diding said, happy with the outcome.

Her father said children are naturally better at rice breeding than the old farmers because they have much better vision and steadier hands. “Diding has more successful breeding attempts than I do,” Eugenio smiled.

John Raymund Jurada tends to a cucumber garden at the demo farm of Agro-Eco Philippines in Maluko, Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon on 14 November 2019. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Bobit also does rice breeding, starting at age 12, taught by his father Arthur, who was one of two speakers on rice breeding during the assembly.

“They say the youth is the hope of the nation, because if the youth won’t follow the footsteps of the old people, society will suffer,” he told fellow farmers.

He said he preferred to be a farmer because he already learned a lot, going to the farm with his father all these years. “I also love that I have control over my time, and income is good,” Bobit added.

Back in his native M’lang in North Cotabato, Bobit has a vegetable farm and a small fishpond. He raises hogs, ducks and chickens.

To entice the youths in his community, he formed the Gulayan ng Kabataan, whose members learn how to plant and to cook. It has 30 members, 18 girls and 12 boys. The youngest is nine.

John Raymund Jurada (leftmost) and his group dubbed the Gulayan ng Kabataan at a farm in M’lang, North Cotabato. Photo courtesy of John Raymund Jurada

“On Sundays, we all eat together in a boodle fight,” Bobit said.

He said he is grateful he learned how to farm without using chemicals.

In concluding his presentation, Bobit had this message: “If you love yourself, your family and your neighbors, don’t feed them poison,” referring to pesticides and other chemicals. “You let them eat what you eat,” he added. (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)