The 172nd batch of farmer-trainees of the SM Foundation’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) training course, which began on June 8, 2018, finally harvested and graduated from their course, after successive floods from habagat and typhoon Ompong washed away their vegetable crops last year.
They were originally scheduled to finish last September, but with habagat and Ompong dumping last July and August so much water in the field, they lost everything, including the mulching plastics that were meant to protect the high-value vegetables from excessive rainfall and the scorching sun.
Despite these they carried on with the training and finally harvested last January 9 and graduated formally at SM City Rosales the following day. It was a fun-filled harvest festival with the participants presenting their intermission numbers and participating in the games prepared by the SM Group of companies operating in Pangasinan.
From an original 120, the graduates went down to 108 but all of them are now determined to pursue their newfound skills in their backyards or neighboring farms and to pass on their knowledge to their peers.
The techno-farm in Barangay Doyong—owned by trainee Bernardo Morales (a retired manager of Land Bank in Pangasinan) – is on an elevated terrain but because of the swollen Marusay River (which reached 10 feet deep or way above its critical level of 6.2 feet) that overflowed, the floods spilled to Calasiao and filled another river, Sinocalan River. At least 24 villages of 31 remained flooded for over three weeks.
Morales, for one, said he would welcome his fellow-trainees who would choose to farm within his family’s 1.4-hectare farm just so they can continue practicing what they learned and earn at the same time.
Stephen Ballesteros, 29, the youngest but most active advocate of farming, used to be employed in a hospital to maintain the IT system (as he graduated from an IT course). After three years, he decided to get into farming in the land of his father (an agriculturist).
He finds that farming is not just a stress-reliever but there is great fulfillment in seeing the seeds grow into marketable sizes and earn from the products while at the same time supplying freshly-harvested vegetables on the family’s table. He began being passionate about farming in 2017—after his hospital job and while completing the requirements for a cruise line (also as IT employee). He now heads the Assosasyon ng Samahang Maggugulay ng Barangay Doyong.
Bernardo Ferrer, at 69 is the oldest participant and has been farming for 50 years with no intention of giving up for as long as he lives. “Salamat at sa edad kong ito meron pa akong dapat matutunan at yan ay nakamit ko dito KSK. “
For 2019, this is the first batch of KSK graduates and the first harvest festival for the year.
Dra. Monette Nogit, municipal agricultural officer of Calasiao, who has been training farmers for 19 years, said she looks forward to a time when farmers, especially those who now categorize themselves as 4Ps beneficiaries (or the Pantawid program of the government) would take pride in being farmers and list themselves as such in future training programs, rather than as 4Ps dependents.
In the graduation, she said when she asked her staff how many of the KSK participants were farmers, she was told 65 percent. So, she felt sad that farmers would rather be linked as social welfare dependents rather than as proud farmers. “I hope that if there is another training program by SM or other companies/NGOs you would proudly declare yourselves as farmers and no longer as dependents on dole-outs.”
Vice Mayor Mahadeva Mesina lauded the SM Foundation for undertaking such a training program even before the SM Group thought of putting up a mall or retail outlet there. “Kahit wala pa SM sa Calasiao nandito na sila tumutulong unlike another retail giant that did not comply with the LGUs condition to hire 85 percent from the local labor force.”
Mayor Joseph Arman Bauzon praised the farmer-trainees for staying in the training despite the setbacks. “Pinakita ninyo po ang sakripisyo, tiyaga na gusto po ninyo talagang matapos ang training hindi lang po para matapos kung hindi para sa inyong kinabukasan.”
He vowed to help them in whatever way he can—be it seeds, financing or market linking as he said he would ask the public market of the municipality to sell majority of the farm output of KSK trainees.
The KSK Batch 172 harvested their upo, watermelon, lettuces, sili pangsigang, eggplant, patola, tomato, upland kangkong, ampalaya, squash and okra early Wednesday which they sold to each other and some were used as ingredients for the cooking contest held during the harvest program.
On graduation day, the participants were first toured at SM City Rosales and were taught how the vegetables are packaged, priced and stored. Most, if not all, of them stepped foot on the mall for the first time. The participants were happy and excited to finally graduate and receive their Certificate of Completion last January 9, 2019 and they were given a great part of the afternoon to go around the mall.