After SM Foundation conducted its sustainable agriculture program Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) farmers’ training in the Yolanda-stricken (international name: Haiyan) area of Iloilo in 2014, a total of 230 farmer-graduates re-entered society with renewed hope.
Among them was Engineer Lemie Leonida, a retired school teacher. After Yolanda leveled most of their area in Lambunao and destroyed their means of livelihood, she turned to farming as a way to help out her family.
After completing their 12-week training, Leonida and her fellow KSK graduates formed the cooperative KSK Lambunao Organic Vegetable Growers Association (KSK LaOVeGA).
Starting with kangkong and lettuce, the group started to sell crops to SM Market food suppliers. Before long, they ventured to growing red lady papaya. They now produce about 1 ton per week.
“It is only now that I realized that the richest part of the earth is in the soil,” Leonida said. “Farming can be very rewarding, enjoyable, worthwhile and, on top it all, income generating.”
As the demand for their produce increased, the group established a training center in 2014 to train interested residents in the area. The center conducts trainings on high-value crops, organic agriculture and herb-growing based on what they have learned under the KSK program. The training not only provided more livelihood opportunities to the community but also increased the group’s pool of farmers.
In less than a year, the KSK LaOVeGA Training Center has already conducted 3 trainings benefitting 75-100 farmers per batch in Lambunao and its surrounding communities.
Aside from this, KSK LaOVeGA also supports the local government’s supplementary feeding program by providing fresh fruits and vegetables. They also conduct trainings for parents on organic backyard vegetable farming to help them provide healthier meals for their own families.
Another KSK graduate who also conducts trainings is Eduardo Aucena. Due to the strong influence of his father who was also a farmer, Aucena joined the KSK training conducted in Catablan, Urdaneta in 2012.
After completing the training, Aucena became part of a cooperative group established among his fellow KSK batchmates. Before long, they were able to supply to various sellers and have created a stable source of income for themselves.
At the same time, Aucena also tends to his family’s 7-hectare rented farmland. Because of his training under the KSK program, he is now able to plant high-value crops in addition to their yield of corn and grain. Learning more about systematic farming helped him improve the quality and quantity of his crops.
With his business flourishing, Aucena started to employ out-of-school youth in Brgy. Mermer, Manaoag, Pangasinan in his farm. While they are able to earn, workers are given the chance to learn more about organic farming for their own backyards.
Leonida and Aucena are only two of SM Foundation’s farmer-graduates who continue to replicate what they have learned from their KSK trainings
“We encourage our farmers to share what they have learned during the training—not only to fellow farmers but also to their neighbors, relatives and friends,” said Cristie Angeles, SM Foundation Assistant Vice President for Livelihood. “By doing this, the farmers themselves are helping build their communities by creating stable sources of food and creating more livelihood opportunities.”
Angeles added, “These farmers are not only building bigger and stronger cooperative groups but have also become living testaments that farming can still be beneficial and profitable, even in this day and age.”
Now on its eighth year, SM Foundation’s KSK farmers’ training program continues to address social challenges like food security by teaching farmers new and doable technical and hands on production of high value crops.
The KSK program is conducted in partnership with Harbest Agribusiness Corporation and in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local government units.
To date, SM Foundation has already trained 11, 697 farmers from 524 municipalities nationwide.