Farmers as scientists
Jose used to be a vegetable farmer and part-time tricycle driver up in the hills of Barangay Ablayan in Dalaguete, Cebu. He earned around P100,000 in a year, or a little more than P8,000 a month, barely allowing his family to make ends meet. But with their agribusiness venture, he and his wife Reberah now earn P30 million a year, working with more than 100 contract grower farmers. They own four delivery vehicles of multicab pickups and trucks, and now live in a three-story house in neighboring Argao, where they have since settled.
Jose and Reberah were the first millionaires under the Farmer Scientists Research, Development and Extension Training Program (FSTP) spearheaded by 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Romulo Davide since the early 1990s. An unassuming agricultural scientist from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños throughout his professional career, Dr. Davide has quietly made it his life’s work to uplift the lives of farmers and their families. Built on his conviction that “there is no barren soil, only barren minds,” he championed the application of science by small farmers and showed that they can be scientists, too. And armed with the right knowledge, farmers can be rich; indeed, he likes to describe his program as one that “forces” farmers to be rich (Pugos ug kadato in Cebuano).
His program has multiplied the incomes of farmers whom the FSTP has trained, starting in his home province of Cebu, which, challenged by unproductive soils, used to have among the highest incidences of poverty in the country. While Cebu became the FSTP’s flagship province, the program has since uplifted farmers’ lives in various other provinces spanning Batanes to Zamboanga. Last year, the first Fisher-Scientists RDE Training Program was launched in Barangay Taloot in Argao, Cebu, expanding the program beyond crop farmers to cover fishers as well.
Dr. Davide describes a scientist as one who “watches things, reads, finds out how things work and how they can be made better, wonders, experiments, finds out what is true, and sees that wonderful things do indeed happen.” Believing that any farmer can be all of these, he developed a holistic three-phase program he describes thus: “In Phase I, farmers do research with scientists in the field and also learn the value of love of God, country and people. They design and conduct experiments that include land preparation, varietal and fertilizer trials, and intercropping, among others.” This is the initial and technical part of the FSTP to turn farmers into farmer-scientists. In Phase II, “farmers adopt the scientific methods and technologies learned in Phase I into their own farms, such as the use of new high-yielding varieties of corn, sweet potato and vegetables, correct use and application of fertilizer and correct preparation and care of the soil.” Phase III is where trained farmers “teach untrained fellow farmers in their barangay by serving as volunteer technicians and extension workers.” Phases I and II thus comprise the R&D component of the program, while Phase III rounds up the RDE system with extension conducted by farmer-trainees themselves.
Key to the program’s success, according to the FSTP champion, is the strong political will and buy-in of local executives led by the governor down to mayors and barangay captains. Also critical is all-out financial assistance for the technical training of farmers, assistance in marketing through formation of farmers’ cooperatives and associations, and provision of farm-to-market roads and other infrastructure to link farmers to the markets. The FSTP has shown that with the right direction and impetus from provincial governments working in partnership with scientists from the academe, we can raise farmers’ productivity and incomes under a devolved agricultural extension system.
In the note with which Dr. Davide sent me FSTP materials at my request, he wrote: “Please help us find support from the private sector to expand FSTP to even more depressed provinces, especially in Mindanao.” This additional link in the partnership would indeed further boost the benefits the FSTP is already reaping for large numbers of Filipinos in our countryside.
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