Calasiao, Pangasinan - After two major setbacks suffered from heavy rains and floods from Habagat and a typhoon, the 108 farmer-trainees of Barangay Doyong in Calasiao, Pangasinan finally harvested their high-value vegetable crops and watermelons, produced after seven months of field trainings conducted by the SM Foundation and Harbest Agribusiness Corp.
The farmer-trainees under Batch 172 of the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan program of SM Foundation began their training in June and were supposed to finish after 12 weeks or three months but because of the damage wrought by floods from the habagat in July and by typhoon Ompong in August that forced them to extend the training up to January.
From an original 120 trainees, those left until the graduation were 108 with most of them determined to pursue their newfound knowledge and farming technologies in their backyards as well as train their neighbors on these new farm technologies.
The techno-farm in Barangay Doyong—owned by trainee Bernardo Morales – is on an elevated terrain but because of the swollen Marusay River (which reached 10 feet deep or way above its critical level of 6.2 feet) that overflowed, the floods spilled to Calasiao and filled another river, Sinocalan River. At least 24 villages of 31 remained flooded for over three weeks.
Morales said “our graduation is a recognition that we are learned participants and that “we became united in our newfound skills of growing vegetables” in an area that used to be planted solely to rice and corn.
Stephen Ballesteros, 29, the youngest but most active advocate of farming, used to be employed in a hospital to maintain the IT system (as he graduated from an IT course). After three years, he decided to get into farming in the land of his father (an agriculturist).
He finds that farming is not just a stress-reliever but there is great fulfillment in seeing the seeds grow into marketable sizes and earn from the products while at the same time supplying freshly- harvested vegetables on the family’s table. He began being passionate about farming in
2017—after his hospital job and while completing the requirements for a cruise line (also as IT employee).
His elder brother encouraged him to put up a greenhouse inside the family’s 4,000 square meter lot, which he did with the internet courses and tutorials as his guide. “I had my share of hits and misses until I was asked to join this KSK program and encourage the youth in my community to join. Many students heeded my call but since the season- training became 7 months long due to the floods, many of the student-trainees graduated and opted to be employed.” He now heads the Assosasyon ng Samahang Maggugulay ng Barangay Doyong.
Bernardo Ferrer, at 69 is the oldest participant and has been farming for 50 years with no intention of giving up for as long as he lives. “Salamat at sa edad kong ito meron pa akong dapat matutunan at yan ay nakamit ko dito KSK. “
For 2019, this is the first batch of KSK graduates and the first harvest festival for the year.
Dra. Monette Nogit, municipal agricultural officer of Calasiao, who has been training farmers for 19 years, said she looks forward to a time when farmers, especially those who now categorize themselves as 4Ps beneficiaries (or the Pantawid program of the government) would take pride in being farmers and list themselves as such in future training programs, rather than as 4Ps dependents.
In the graduation, she said when she asked her staff how many of the KSK participants were farmers, she was told 65 percent. So, she felt sad that farmers would rather be linked as social welfare dependents rather than as proud farmers. “I hope that if there is another training program by SM or other companies/NGOs you would proudly declare yourselves as farmers and no longer as dependents on dole-outs.”
Vice Mayor Mahadeva Mesina lauded the SM Foundation for undertaking such a training program even before the SM Group thought of putting up a mall or retail outlet there. “Kahit wala pa SM sa Calasiao nandito na sila tumutulong unlike another retail giant that did not comply with the LGUs condition to hire 85 percent from the local labor force.”
Mayor Joseph Arman Bauzon praised the farmer-trainees for staying in the training despite the setbacks. “Pinakita ninyo po ang sakripisyo, tiyaga na gusto po ninyo talagang matapos ang training hindi lang po para matapos kung hindi para sa inyong kinabukasan."
He vowed to help them in whatever way he can—be it seeds, financing or market linking as he said he would ask the public market of the municipality to sell majority of the farm output of KSK trainees.
The KSK Batch 172 harvested their upo, watermelon, lettuces, sili pangsigang, eggplant, patola, tomato, upland kangkong, ampalaya, squash and okra early Wednesday which they sold to each other and some were used as ingredients for the cooking contest held during the harvest program.
Their harvest program was filled with games and intermission numbers that they prepared and which saw the participation (and prizes donated by SM Group) of retail heads operating in the province, in this case SM City Rosales, SM Hypermarket Rosales, SM City Urdaneta and Savemore Lingayen.
Their training started on June 8, 2018 and originally scheduled to end on September 7, 2018 but had to be extended to January because of the floods caused by habagat and typhoon Ompong. The training resumed on November 16, 2018.
On graduation day, the participants were first toured at SM City Rosales and were taught how the vegetables are packaged, priced and stored. Most, if not all, of them stepped foot on the mall for the first time. The participants were happy and excited to finally graduate and receive their Certificate of Completion and they were given a great part of the afternoon to go around the mall.