By MAVIC CONDE
Bicol Umalohokan / Bulatlat.com
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay — Elizabeth Martin, a vegetable farmer from La Trinidad, Benguet, said that when it comes to farming, the roles of men and women are not that different.
“Women also plant crops, water them, and tend to them,” Martin told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
However, it is the women who usually save seeds for planting. “Once harvested, we clean the seeds and put them in sealed glass jars,” she said. While the process of saving seeds is another layer of work, it has its benefits too.
“When you save seeds, you no longer have to buy for your planting needs, or use chemical fertilizers and pesticides which kill soil nutrients,” she said. That’s why Martin and fellow indigenous members of the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) have to grow their seed collections by organic farming, which she said also lets her serve healthy food for her family. “All I have to worry about as a mother when cooking meals is salt, especially when you have fresh vegetable harvests,” she said, adding, “Your budget goes to other food preferences like meat.”
Lany Guavez, an organic farming advocate from Camarines Sur, has a similar story. “Not having to worry about your everyday food because you have enough rice to cook, that’s peace of mind,” she said. For her, it’s a big deal because while it’s true that her husband also provides for the family, it’s mothers like her who do the daily budgeting. It also helped that her children rarely get hospitalized, which she links to the healthy food they eat.
Her family used to grow organic rice and vegetables in Pasacao town. At that time, it wasn’t just a source of livelihood but also a family culture. They trained their children to tend to a part of the almost two-hectares public land they were farming. On weekends, she helped her husband because she was a private school teacher then.
According to Guavez, the three-fourths hectare of riceland could provide 65 cavans of Bulao rice on a good cropping season, but on dry seasons they could harvest only 20 to 25 cavans. The rest of the rain-fed land was planted with vegetables. Eventually, they, together with neighboring farmers, adapted ten varieties of seeds from farmer-led network MASIPAG including the drought- and flood-tolerant PBB varieties to help them work around the limitation of having no direct water source. To do that, they have to make them adapted to their local conditions by observing, testing, and verifying over three cropping periods, all the while ensuring that the soil is healthy.
Unfortunately, her family had to leave the place when her children were in grades four, seven and eight because of her being vocal in advocating for land rights. Now, they live with her mother where they have a small vegetable garden and livestock. Her eldest, now a college student, is taking up agricultural engineering because he learned at a young age about trial farming.
Her husband has to drive the habal-habal (motorcycle) in order to augment their income, while she continues to advocate for organic farming through people’s organizations like AMIHAN (National Federation of Peasant Women) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Bikol. Just this week, she visited the local agriculture office to request in-bred seeds for upland farmers because these need less water and can be used for succeeding plantings, unlike hybrid seeds.
Guavez explained that while farmers can get free seeds from local branches of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), which serves as the country’s seed bank, there’s a limitation to that. She said that farmers can’t use these certified seeds in trial farming and public breeding otherwise they may be legally liable.
Bulatlat tried to reach the Bicol agriculture office but has not responded yet regarding its question if the certified seeds that PhilRice provides are patented.
Guavez is also consistent with her other advocacy, which is to give the piece of land in Pasacao to farmers and fisherfolks.
Likewise, Martin is urging the Department of Agriculture, as well as the 2022 election candidates, to support the establishment of community seed libraries nationwide where individual seed-savers donate a portion of their seed collections for mutual aid and crop diversity. As a survivor of a typhoon disaster in 2018, having access to seeds and land helped her replant soon.
Martin said seed-savers also observe and verify which crops are well-adapted to their environments, just as how scientists do their systematic documentation and knowledge sharing among local farmers. The collaboration between the municipal agriculture office of Tublay and the Global Seed Savers Philippines provided them training and was also key to the establishment of the town’s seed library and the revival of the seed saving practice in the province.
AMIHAN’s Secretary General Cathy Estavillo emphasized in a Zoom interview the importance for smallholder farming families to have the control of their food production, more so on having their own farmlands.