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The Vegetable Farm Up the Hill

It was nearly noon, and the sun was already scorching hot when Analyn, 48, picked string beans and snap peas on their 1.5-hectare vegetable farm up a hill in Brgy. Malabanan, Balete, Batangas. It was a grueling task because the trellises that held the vines up were bent low by the strong winds and rain brought by Typhoon Paeng (Nalgae) in September.  She crouched to get the mature beans while dragging a sack where she put her harvest. Her husband, Pablo, 54, picked okra on the other side of the farm. They then met where two large wicker baskets were nearly filled with the vegetables they gathered. They began sorting those of market quality from those they would cook at home or sell to their neighbors downhill.

While packing the vegetables they would sell to the traders in the market, Analyn shared that they are reaping the results of their good decisions at the start of the cropping season.

They were one of several small farmers affected by the volcanic ash eruption of Mount Taal that were invited as participants to CARE’s aGAP (Asenso sa Good Agriculture Package). It was a project implemented with the Southern Tagalog People’s Response Center – STPRC, Inc. with support from the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. that assists marginalized farming households whose livelihoods have been doubly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the intermittent Taal Volcano eruptions since January 2020. One of the project’s supports was providing additional farming inputs such as training on good agriculture practices to the participants to help them improve their resiliency to the constant volcanic ash and other climate change effects on their farming.

They learned from one of the sustainable agriculture training they attended that they could plant madre de cacao, a nitrogen-fixing tree, as natural trellises for their climbing vegetables. Their usual wooden post trellis cost 15 pesos each (27 cents). They needed at least 500 post trellises. Using the madre de cacao meant they saved 7,500 pesos (135 dollars). And because it is planted and growing, the tree can help prevent the soil from eroding, and its nitrogen-rich leaves can be used as fertilizer. With the trees rooted to the ground, they withstood being felled by the typhoon’s winds. Hence, the family was able to keep harvesting from their farm.

Moreover, Pablo learned to make fermented plant juice (FPJ) which ingredients were mainly from the plants they were growing. This is an inexpensive alternative to chemical fertilizers. They usually spend 4,000 pesos (72) dollars for fertilizer. With the FPJ, they partially cut the cost for this.

Pablo stirs the fermented plant juice (FPJ) that he made at home using molasses and vegetables harvested from the family farm. | Photo: M. Norbe

“We still couldn’t entirely turn it into an organic farm because we needed the yield that the chemical fertilizers bring. But slowly, we are noticing how the natural fertilizers I made produce healthier plants”, Pablo shared.

He had already experimented using only the FPJ and animal manure on a plot of okra, producing market-quality fruits. He planned to continue applying the knowledge from the training to the farm and see how they could improve their yield.

Pablo harvests okra from a vegetable plot where he experimented full application of fermented fruit juice (FPJ). | Photo: M. Norbe
The FPJ applied produced good market-quality okra fruits with minimal cost compared to chemical fertilizers. | Photo: M. Norbe

For farmers like Pablo and Analyn, yield is the most critical factor in bringing sufficient income from farming. However, their harsh experiences with the changing climate and the constant exposure to volcanic ash taught them that if they didn’t change their ways of farming, their land would continuously be stripped of its fertility and eventually lose yield.

They have been farming for the past 20 years using chemical fertilizers. They observed how these turned the soil so acidic that for every cropping, they added more to produce the same yield as the last. The soil gets easily eroded too, when heavy rains pour.  So, the couple are working hard to bring back their farm soil’s fertility and increase its resilience to extreme weather events by integrating good agricultural practices in their farming.

“We are getting older and we wanted to prepare this land for our son to inherit. When that day comes, this farm will be a thriving business that we hope for him to continue”, Analyn shared.

This story is part of the aGAP (Asenso sa Good Agriculture Package) sa Batangas implemented by CARE and its partner, Southern Tagalog People’s Response Center – STPRC, Inc. in three barangays in the Municipality of Balete in Batangas province. This project is supported by the Metrobank Foundation.

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