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Farming, sewing, and saving

Dark clouds hovered when Lolita, 53, arrived at her house on a gloomy December morning. She had just finished her daily trek of the muddy trail to and from their vegetable farm in Brgy. Malabanan, Balete, Batangas. It had been raining for a few days, so she and her son, who works with her on the farm, constantly checked how their crops were faring with the weather. They learned to be meticulous in monitoring their crops, especially the vegetables, because of their experience with the Mt. Taal volcanic ash eruption earlier that year.

The string beans they planted were already in their first month of growth when it happened. The leaves turned yellow and were laden with small holes.

“We immediately applied fertilizer to help the crops withstand the effects. It did help them from withering and grew to produce string beans that were shorter and thinner”, shared Lolita. Their few kilos of harvest only paid for a part of the expenses they made for that cropping.

Lolita has been farming for the past thirty years. She shared that the challenges have become more difficult in recent years. The biggest hurdle was the unpredictable weather which greatly affected their planting schedule and their crops’ resilience to the intense heat in the dry season and the heavy rains in the wet season. Added to this was how traders controlled the market: which crops to produce and the price of these crops.

These are the seeds of pigeon peas locally known as kadyos which Lolita stored for planting. | Photo: M. Norbe/CARE

“We used to plant different varieties of vegetables. We had no choice but to stick to only those the market demands”, shared Lolita.

With most farmers doing the same, the supply increases every harvest. This leads to a decrease in the buying price for their crops.

When she attended one of the sustainable agriculture trainings organized by CARE and the Southern Tagalog People’s Response Center – STPRC, Inc., she learned that food producers like her should be innovative in navigating the tricky waters of the market and ensuring that their farm production will be sustained for future generations.

Her son, Reymark, 27, is already working on their farm, and Lolita wanted him and his family to continue reaping the benefits of farming. These training were part of the aGAP (Asenso sa Good Agriculture Package), a project supported by the Metrobank Foundation 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.

After the training, she decided to integrate natural ways of farming by making oriental herbal nutrients (OHN), fish amino acids (FAA) and fermented plant juice (FPJ) and applying these as fertilizers and enhancers to their crops. Her first harvest after this was a success. The string beans yielded more than their usual harvest. The fruits were also longer and firmer. She also noticed that the soil turned darker, and the flowering vegetables kept blooming and bearing fruits every week.

Lolita (left) and another farmer participant peeled garlic to make oriental herbal nutrients (OHN) used to boost plant growth. | Photo: STPRC

She also decreased their production of ampalaya (bitter gourd), which sells at a high price but requires intense labor and is very sensitive to changes in weather and soil conditions and recurrent volcanic ash eruptions. Instead, she focused their vegetable production on crops that were easy to grow and required less amount of capital. She continued storing seeds that were open-pollinated varieties like string beans, okra, pigeon pea and winged beans, so she didn’t need to buy these from traders.

“We are near Taal, and we had to find ways like these to survive the effects of its eruption on our crops and livelihood,” she said.

Hence, Lolita also doesn’t depend on farming as her family’s sole source of income. After doing her farm chores, she sewed school uniforms that retailers of ready-to-wear clothes would buy from her for 130 pesos (2.6 USD) per dozen. She usually finishes two dozen per day. She also works on other farms as a weeder and harvester.

Above photo: Lolita spends most of her time in her porch where she sews school uniforms after her tending to their vegetable farm. |
M. Norbe/CARE

Right photo: Part of income from selling this fresh harvest of string beans will be put in the tin savings bank. | STPRC

“It felt so good to have some cash to use in times of difficulty. I didn’t have to borrow from anyone”, she added.

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. The Metrobank Foundation supports this project.

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