It takes someone who has actually done it to state with confidence that the hands that rock the cradle can also till the soil. Women can successfully raise children, produce food by cultivating the land, and contribute significantly to community building.
Luzviminda Teston-Oropesa is one such woman.
None of those tasks is easy, especially for a single mother like her, who manages her farm in an environment that lies in the country’s typhoon belt. Minda Oropesa is from Catanduanes, which had experienced extreme weather disturbances in recent memory. Each time she felt like giving up upon seeing the damage caused by those storms, she kept reminding herself of the many reasons she should rise and start all over again. She has always placed the welfare of the farm workers and those who stand to benefit from the fruits of their labor above her own.
Geologist turned farmer
Before she went into farming, Minda was a professional geologist and was working as the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officer of a mining company in Leyte. While managing soil rehabilitation activities in the mined areas, she envisioned vast potentials for her family-owned farm in Catanduanes. She had clear plans for her retirement, and as soon as the opportunity came in 2011, she went back to her idyllic town of Baras and started developing their more than three hectares of agricultural property.
In 2012 she organized the Happy Farmers Producers Integrated and Livelihood Association, Inc. (HAFPILA) composed of 37 members/farmers, 30 of whom were women. The term ‘Happy Farmers’ in their name has the same ring to it as that of The Happy Island, the tag used by Catanduanes for tourism promotion. The organic farm is listed as one of the Certified Learning Sites for Agriculture in the Bicol region, a classification given to farms that adopt applicable agricultural technologies, using doable and sustainable farming strategies, and are operating successfully.
She deserves the credit for introducing the members to the Diversified Integrated Farming System (DIFS), a concept that favors polyculture or growing different crops, over that of the traditional monoculture, where a single crop is planted over a wide area. Researches have shown that DIFS is more viable, uses natural resources more efficiently, offers better pest resistance, and produces more varied and nutritious produce. In the long term, it has better contribution to economic stability and social equality as it allows farmers to participate directly in decision making.
The member farmers do not use chemical fertilizers; instead, they produce carbonized rice hull enriched with vermicompost tea and extracts from fish amino acids (FAA), fermented plant juice (FPJ), and oriental herbal nutrients (OHN). They also engage in vermiculture or the cultivation of earthworms for composting. The by-products, which are made available commercially to the community, have been proven in many studies to promote plant growth and significantly increase nutrient content of fruits and vegetables without degrading the natural resources.
These days it is not uncommon to see young people, especially agriculture students from the Catanduanes State University and youth council members, getting immersed in farm activities – a hopeful vision for Minda. “Our farmers are already old, I hope that the children will continue their parents’ endeavors in tilling the land where they were born,” says this woman farmer who walked her talk when she chose to nurture her father’s bequeathed land.
At certain times, Minda’s farm would burst with colors from flowers and fruits of roselle, dragon fruit, and other seasonal crops, which are sold fresh or processed as jams. For additional income and sustained livelihood, HAFPILA ventured into the production of natural food supplements in 2014. Medicinal plants, including moringa, serpentina, turmeric, mangosteen, and gotu kola grow abundantly on the island. These are solar-dried or made into tea, essential oil, or processed and packed as food supplements in capsule form. Despite the ‘no approved therapeutic claims’ caveat, the use of certain herbs for medicinal purposes has become popular in many cultures. Many of them are undergoing scientific reviews for their possible health benefits, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. For example, serpentina (Andrographis Paniculata) is believed to reduce the severity of lung inflammation and could be helpful during the early stages of Covid 19.
Happy Farmers, for a Happier, Healthier Lifestyle
For her laudable initiatives to promote organic farming in Catanduanes, Minda was awarded the top prize in the Search for Outstanding Rural Women of the Department of Agriculture in 2015. In her acceptance speech, she said, “It is an honor to be a woman. We play a big role in shaping our nation.” Onwards, she knows that this role comes with huge challenges. “Despite the abundant resources in our province, Catanduanes remains one of 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines with high prevalence of malnutrition,” she says.
Through HAFPILA, she hopes to achieve food security through the use of efficient, effective and productive farming systems. She dreams to replicate the humble successes of her group in as many farming communities as possible in Catanduanes. “In supporting us, in buying our products, you are helping us realize our dreams.”
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(An edited version of this article is in the August 28, 2021 issue of the BusinessMirror. Photo credits: HAFPILA, Inc.)