In places where deep-seated traditions have been handed down from one generation to the next, introducing innovation may not always work. But this isn’t the case with some farming communities in Marinduque.
Averiel Rosales, from the Napo farming community in the province, had been planting rice the conventional way for over 20 years. In June 2016, he was introduced to Agrea, and things have since taken a turn for the better for him.
Agrea Agricultural System International Inc. is a social enterprise and foundation that aims to create the first “one island economy” in the Philippines by investing in human ability and local resources.
Agrea, from the words “agriculture” and “gaea” (Greek for “Earth” or “Mother Earth”), seeks to give farmers and fisher folk opportunities to lift them from poverty. Its first project is the island province of Marinduque.
“What we are doing in Agrea is including the farmers by focusing on their capabilities. We want to change their mindset towards being open not only to technology but also information,” according to Cherrie D. Atilano, Agrea president and CEO.
Agrea is teaching Marinduqueños innovative techniques in mangrove planting, vermi-composting, organic farming, waste management and micro-irrigation, among other things.
Rosales recalled how Agrea taught him how to make his own fertilizer. This helped make his rice plants grow healthier while at the same time lowering his farming costs.
“Now we don’t have to spend money on fertilizer. We learned how to use what is available around us. Best of all, it’s organic,” said Rosales.
“We want to change their mindset towards being open not only to technology but also information.”
He also learned a revolutionary farming technique called System for Rice Intensification (SRI).
SRI seminars are conducted with SRI Pilipinas where the farmers are taught how to boost rice productivity through new methods of managing plants, soil, irrigation water and nutrients.
Six farming communities in Marinduque now use SRI technology, according to Atilano. For four or five months, farmers receive SRI training at Agrea’s model farm. They then do test-planting in their communities, allotting land for both SRI organic farming and conventional farming.
Atilano said that in the beginning, the SRI method raised eyebrows. “Neighbors laughed at us, just like Noah was ridiculed while building the ark. They wondered why we were planting seedlings almost a foot apart. But they stopped laughing when the SRI crops yielded a bigger harvest.”
With SRI technology, Atilano said, one needs just five kilos of seeds compared to 250 kilos in conventional farming. Because of the strategic spacing between plants, water usage is decreased by 50 percent. More importantly, a single seedling can grow from 37 to 56 stalks, while harvest time is reduced from 120 to 75 days.
Agrea has also introduced new methods of planting other crops alongside rice.
Reyshel Sore, a turmeric farmer from the Duyay farming community, has been farming rice most of her life. She never thought she could make money planting turmeric.
“No one was buying turmeric before. Nobody took notice of it. Agrea taught us the importance of turmeric,” Sore said. A member of Agrea for two years now, she has learned how to make turmeric powder and market it.
“What we actually want is to eliminate the middlemen. We want the farmers to harvest their produce and sell it themselves,” Atilano said.
“What we actually want is to eliminate the middlemen. We want the farmers to harvest their produce and sell it themselves.”
Aside from picking up new farming techniques, the farmers learn to develop managerial skills and gain access to markets.
This inclusive business model is aligned with Agrea’s vision of creating a self-sufficient island economy, a community that is sustainable and not dependent on external forces.
Agrea “curates” the agriculture so that the community is divided into sectors that are then planted to different products. It considers what farmers want to plant on their land and helps them attain a high yield. It ensures a wide variety of crops to cater to different markets.
A challenge for the foundation is how to sustain resources and organize community building efforts. Currently, a team from Agrea is working with the Department of Agrarian Reform on funding for seminars and trainings. The team is open to collaboration with other government agencies and the private sector.
Agrea is also reaching out to the youth through The Garden Classroom (TGC), a five-year program launched in July 2016 to create gardens in 183 public schools in Marinduque. The program has so far started 18 school gardens that are also aimed at helping the students in their subjects such as math, science and physical education.
“TGC is teaching kids how to grow their own food, love the environment and value entrepreneurship. It is also mainstreaming Agrea’s vision of creating a one island economy among the young members of society,” Atilano said.
Agrea is developing a computer app for recording and replicating best farming practices. It aims to create a rice facility that will offer milling and make rice products like rice bran oil, and later, products from coconut.
Agrea has prompted a green revolution in the farming communities, sparing the local folk from the tragic effects of copper mining of the past and giving them opportunities to live sustainably with the resources they have.
This story is part of a series of articles written by GO NEGOSYO writers being published by GoodNewsPilipinas.com as part of our support to Philippine businesses.