Sheila Mae H. Toreno

A major constraint in Sitio Kawayan, Brgy. Pandanon, Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental is the poor road access where farmers and residents have to endure traversing the steep slopes and hauling their farm inputs and goods using animal-drawn carts locally-called ‘karosa’. They also need to pay a hefty sum to ride a ‘habal-habal’ motorcycle to at least reduce the time for traveling to the town proper.

Ubaldo “Mang Makaw” Ceralbo Jr., 56, admits that their community is among the least developed areas in Don Salvador Benedicto. Their geographically remote and impassable location hampers and delays the delivery of government interventions that could have uplifted the living situation of the upland villagers. But despite being neglected due to inaccessibility, farmers remain determined to utilize their land resources to grow crops and rear animals to sustain their day to day necessities and to provide means for their children’s education.

Raising nine kids was a daunting task for Mang Makaw and wife Diana, but thanks to farming, securing a future for their children through education was materialized. As a way of enabling his community folks to strive further, Mang Makaw organized the Pandanon Integrated Upland Small Farmers Association (PIUSFA) intending to propel their farming undertakings despite the limitations due to their secluded site.

Although PIUSFA was formed several years ago it was only in 2019 that it became a Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) – registered association since it is a prerequisite to avail of the interventions from the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

“Because of the SAAD program, our members are now more involved and committed to carrying out the plans and activities of our association. Through our collective efforts, we can maximize the projects and support we are now benefitting from the agency through the Municipal Agriculture Office,” he shares.

Negros Occidental is at the forefront in pushing for organic agriculture initiatives in the country, thus there has been a steady increase in the demand for organically-grown and pesticide-free crops and vegetables throughout the province. Underlining the importance of food safety and nutrition, a substantial number of farmers engage in organic farming and benefit from a better to a premium price for their products.

The temperate climate and fertile grounds of Brgy. Pandanon makes it favorable for the cultivation of a wide range of lowland and highland vegetables. However, PIUSFA farmers can seldom  market their surplus produce because their usual output only suffices their household consumption. Their low yield was due to the lack of high-quality seeds and planting materials as well as inadequate water supply, especially during warm months.

“Ang amon prinsipyo diri kung ano ang pagkaon nga gatubo sa amon lupa, amo na amon gina konsumo. Secured kami sa amon ginakaon adlaw adlaw. Sang una pang-konsumo lang ang ginaprodukto namon nga mga ulutanon apang sang nag-abot ang SAAD, nakaamat-amat kami pamaligya sa merkado kay ginhatagan kami sang kumpleto nga gamit kag mataas nga kalidad sang binhi,” he shares.

A total of P1,862,425.00 worth of seeds and garden tools were turned over to the association in 2019. To enhance their vegetable production, the SAAD program granted them with 1,800 grams of ampalaya seeds, 300 grams of eggplant, and 300 grams of squash seeds. They also find gardening more convenient with the complete set of farm tools to include 35 pieces each of spade, spading fork, sprinkler, trowel, pronged rake, and 10 water drums, 36 rolls of plastic mulch, and 117 rolls of a water hose. In addition to that, they also received nine cans of natural attractants which safeguard their crops from infestation.

As a SAAD program beneficiary, PIUSFA eyes all-year-round production and capable of supplying the growing demands for organic vegetables in the locality.

Included also in the project was the provision of pesticides and fertilizer, however, PIUSFA members decided to use them for rice production instead to remain consistent in their vegetable farming.

“We prefer to grow our vegetables the organic way so it will be safe to consume and also to meet the demand of our institutional buyer in Bacolod City,” Mang Makaw went on sharing that he had once visited Japan and studied best practices in organic vegetable farming as a former chairman of the Balangaon Farmers Association, a group supported by Alter Trade Corporation.

To guarantee improved yield and production, PIUSFA members underwent training on the farming system, land preparation, seed culture to transplanting, fertilization, artificial pollination, trellising, irrigation, integrated pest management, and proper harvesting procedures.

“We appreciate that the SAAD program prepares our members before the turn over of inputs. It was easy for us to implement the project since we are already equipped on what to do to make sure that the government support will not be put into waste.”

In a two-hectare lot owned by Mang Makaw, the PIUSFA developed a communal garden where they planted different crops including the vegetable seeds they acquired from the SAAD program. Employing the ‘dagyaw system’, the association members do the land preparation, planting, weeding, monitoring, and other management practices twice a week. They started planting the vegetable seeds last April amid the community restrictions due to the pandemic.

After three months of labor, they harvested 60 kilograms of ampalaya and 30 kilograms of squash. The SAAD vegetable project had yielded a total of 240 kilograms of ampalaya, 505 kilograms of squash, and 180 kilograms of eggplant amounting to P26,775.00 gross income from the initial month of the harvest until the first week of October.

Aside from the SAAD vegetable seeds, the PIUSFA also planted other food crops including tomato and bell pepper along with thriving banana trees occupying a significant portion of the farm area.

“We are generating income from growing vegetables. And we are happy that the SAAD projects help us to earn more despite the problems that we encountered.”

Based on the policy they agreed on, the PIUSFA members apportioned 25 percent of the income they will generate for the owner of the lot, 20 percent for the association funds, and the remaining 55 percent shall be divided by the members who are in charge of the communal garden.

In support of the 2019 inputs, the DA-SAAD is yet to distribute this year another 1,200 grams of ampalaya, 200 kilograms each of eggplant and squash seeds, and additional tools totaling to P366,240.00.

Mang Makaw and the other 27 farmer-members aspire to become sustainable producers of organically-grown, chemical-free vegetables in Negros Occidental with all the interventions they obtained and by practicing the technologies conveyed by the DA-SAAD.