Two years ago, at 70 years old I shifted careers, time to hang the gloves and retire from the dizzying media world. I decided to become a farmer.
Everybody is saying farming is best for retirement, the fresh air, the grounding and bonding with the soil, the food direct from the farm plots. To most, farming is heaven, better still, aw a retirement move, preparing for heaven.
Those were my thoughts about spending my last years. I realized later, I was in for a shock.
Farming is not a walk in the park in the Philippines. Of course, my small farm is up in the mountain, the Mt. Makiling. So I have fresh air, sometimes quite strong to literally blow me away and heavenly view of the top of Mt. Makiling on one side and overlooking the urban centers at the other. So the promise of farming as retirement was there except…
I decided to go organic farming. Then, the discovery of an impending disaster on food security.
The shock I faced was on growing the plants. I bought the seeds and the seedlings and started to work on the soil. But the seeds did not grow and the seedlings failed to blossom as dreamt.
The reason I failed in growing the plants, I asked the experts from the Department of Agriculture and I was told the soil in my farm was sick, in fact, almost dying from overuse of chemical fertilizer.
The stress from challenges returned as I had to bring back life to the soil. I waited for over a year and guided by experts invested on natural healing of the soil. With prayers and hard work plus funds, the farm started to grow tasty corn that my neighbors asked where the corn came from.
I was sure, facing the challenge of healing our farms was not an isolated case. I was told Urea, a fertilizer that is more of a poison to our soil, has succeeded in killing our farms after decades of massive use.
So I called a friend and columnist of OpinYon Sonny Domingo to educate me more about other challenges I will face as a farmer.
After a series of sessions, we decided to do something to protect the future of our farmers in particular and the country in general. Particular to framers, as incomes from farms continue to decline to bankruptcy and every Filipino, in general, as dead agriculture is the biggest threat to food security.
So, SOS (Saving our Soils Movement) was born. SOS, while born in our Makati office, its activities should be more in the provinces. Then we decided to start our first chapter in the Eastern Visayas.
We packed our bags, flew to Tacloban City last weekend. We identified and invited five successful farmers in the region and they all came except for one who begged off for family emergency but confirmed to sign up.
The SOS Region 8 got organized with Nico Alde getting temporarily assigned to head the group. Nico has a 10 hectare farm in Babatngon town and his farm is a leading institution on learning how to farm.
We were all excited with the hope that efforts by farmers themselves might bring change to a sector that is on suicide track.
Patrick Renucci, a French, who was just recently granted Filipino citizenship, was very graphic in his description of what is ailing the sector. He owns and operates the most modern and probably the biggest rice processing plant in the country in Alangalang town.
Another party came from Abuyog, led by Ka Nimfa Acuna, and explained how they survived the pandemic and the big typhoons. Their stories were real inspirations.
A leading broadcaster in the region, Tor Bivar, who runs a very successful vegetable farm and agri training center failed to make it but confirmed his joining in the effort.
It’s a small group dedicated to become inspirations to make productive farmers. Members are willing to share knowledge, time and talent with other farmers struggling with government- sponsored neglect to farming.
On the last day of our organization meets of SOS in region 8, I decided to visit Nico’s farm in Babatngon. I learned a lot and there was also fun and laugh.
I visited the loo and I realized the creative, if not naughty, mind of the owners. Men and women were in separate rooms. Women’s room was named “anay” for female pig. The men’s was named “butakal” for stray male pig.
Inside was the bigger laugh. Posted was a reminder that said:
“Alayon pag harani ha bowl, bangin halipot la iton.”
If you’re a Waray, you’ll surely laugh with me. Ask a Waray friend to know its meaning. I had to translate to Sonny and got a big laugh.
I am a Waray, born in Tolosa Leyte and started to develop a family farm of 3,000 sq.meter with a small nipa hut. I call this my tiny farm.
The mission of SOS has started to roll. Time for changes at the agri front if we truly want to become a progressive country and where progress is inclusive.