Growing food despite climate change and the pandemic through ‘GUGMA’

By : Vic Thor Palarca Mindanao Today/04:23:51pm 08/14/2021


Helen J. Baa (second from right), vice president of the Tag-Ilas Organic Vegetable Farmers Association, along with other women farmer members sell their organically-grown vegetables at the El Salvador City Hall. Joining the women farmers in the photo is Cheriemy Generol, project evaluation officer. (Photo courtesy of Vic Thor Palarca)

(1st of 3 parts)

SINCE the onslaught of the pandemic, food prices have continued to rise, reaching its highest point since last year.

In the Philippines, food prices have increased across the country while income source of people have declined during the pandemic, making it harder for people to access the food they and their families need.

Some of our neighborhood and residents in far-flung areas have heavily relied on the distribution of “ayuda” and other care package assistance from various government agencies.

Essential workers, from our fields to our markets, have helped keep the country’s food supply chain on track in the face of these challenges.

Now, during the country's lockdown and heightened community quarantine (ECQ, GCQ, MECQ, or what have you) we are reminded of the risk and dangers essential workers face and the critical role they play in our lives as the pandemic rages on.

With such predicaments in mind, the Agricultural Training Institute – Regional Training Center 10 (ATI-RTC 10) which is based in Poblacion, El Salvador City, Misamis Oriental, have aimed and accomplished, to assist a record number of people in terms of growing their own food by giving vegetable garden-variety seeds, seedlings, livestock, and other farming implements as post-training support to counter the effects of the pandemic.

Since launching the Go Urban Gardening: Making FOOD Available (GUGMA) in Hinigdaan, El Salvador City in August last year, farming organization such as the Tag-Ilas Organic Vegetable Farmers Association have been gaining steady income out from their fresh and organic produce.

GUGMA is a gardening initiative of the center which aims to establish community gardens in the urban area; this is in support to the Urban Agriculture Program and Plant, Plant, Plant Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Introducing GUGMA was easy since the 32 members of the Tag-Ilas Organic Vegetable Farmers Association have already established a community garden of their own.

As natural farming practitioners and advocates, their community garden is teeming with cash crop varieties such as string beans, eggplants, tomatoes, pechay, okra, chili, squash, bananas, and bell peppers.

They sell their organic produce and regularly supplies organic goods in the market of El Salvador City.

“Gugma” is a Cebuano word for love, but for the women farmers of Tag-ilas, the hunger mitigation efforts of the center, coupled with their grit and resilience to come up with organically-grown vegetables for their consumption and to their patrons, have reached a whole new meaning in terms of extending a labor of love.

Despite the challenges, the women farmers were unfazed braving the extreme heat and weather, poor farm to market road, issues of mobility to transport their farm produce, geographical location, land stewardship, and a presence of an alleged “aswang,” a scary-looking creature of the night stealing their crops and farm goods just before they can even make a harvest.

As I tagged along with my colleague, Project Evaluation Officer I Cheriemy D. Generol and Lionel Rey G. Apdian of the City Agriculture Office, to monitor the farming progress of the members, we spoke to eight empowered women farmers who represent the thousands of people throughout the food supply chain.

Sharing their experiences of risk, determination, resilience, and hope:

Concesa U. Sumili – “I work as a food peddler with different snack items like hotcakes, puto, bibingka, syakoy, and ice candy.

I sell food and peddle snacks from one house to another, since this is my way of earning a living aside from farming. I can earn 600 pesos in a day’s work.

I feared this pandemic a lot. If I had the financial ability to support my family without leaving the house, I would have stayed home, so that I could guarantee my family’s safety.

When I am home, I tend to my diversified farm planted with bell peppers, okra, string beans, spring onions, and tomatoes.

When selling vegetables in the neighborhood, I can earn 300 pesos a week.

Since I am old already, I can only work on the one-hectare land out from the five hectares.

I feared this disease a lot. If I had the financial ability to support my family, I would not have opted for peddling food in our area and the nearby barangay.

I would have stayed home so that I could guarantee my family's safety.”

Emelita Obaob – “The pandemic has given me the opportunity to develop my 1.8-hectare farm.

I admit that the coronavirus pandemic wasn't a pleasant experience for me or my fellow farmers.

I didn't want my vegetables to rot, sometimes I would sell them at a lower cost. I had to take several risks.

Transportation access is cumbersome and limited. Still, we get by and our farming activity continues.

Meanwhile, I was able to help my neighbors with my farm produce and income.

I was fortunate enough to have food at my house. Many people were not as fortunate.

Knowing that, I couldn't let them stay hungry.

Given the same conditions, I am sure my neighbors would have helped me.

I found a sense of community in this period. Even though we were isolated, I believe that we are all in this together.” (To be continued)

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