By Mancielito S. Tacadena
Photos by: Dante Tacata
Agriculture is one of the main sources of income for families in Ilocos Sur. The vast agricultural lands are planted with rice during the rainy season and with different vegetables, corn, onion, garlic and tobacco during the dry season. To serve as a show window of good agricultural practices in the province, the provincial government of Ilocos Sur thought of turning the 16.5 hectares of wasteland in Labnig, San Juan into a demonstration farm to serve as model to Ilocano farmers who are still hesitant to embrace the new agricultural technologies that would give them a higher yield.
On December 17, 2008 after a dialogue between the officials of the Department of Agriculture and the provincial government of Ilocos Sur represented by then Governor Deogracias Victor “DV” Savellano, they started to develop the land formerly under the Cotton Development Authority in San Juan. They hired several farm workers to get rid of the tall grasses and thick weeds in the area. Gov. Savellano also requested the different agencies to be part of the project. All the tapped agencies responded positively. Immediately they shared their resources and technical expertise and the formerly arid and worthless land became an attractive and colourful model farm. The project was continued by Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson who returned as the province’s local chief executive in 2010.
The provincial government tapped Dr. Cesar Soller, a retired regional director of the National Meat Inspection Commission, to be the farm manager. Right after his appointment, he immediately drew a plan to maximize the area. He divided the land into several parts. He also created a name that best described the area: BaRang-ay demofarm.
First, a pinakbet farm was tilled where hybrid seeds of eggplant, ampalaya, okra, kangkong, squash, bell pepper, tomato, string beans, pechay, papaya and other vegetables were planted. A green house was also established for sowing seeds and plant vegetables even during the rainy and even off season.
After several weeks, Soller started to transplant dragon fruit cuttings. This high value commercial crop is now gaining popularity among many farmers. Fruits of this cactus plant command a high price in the market. Believed to be an aphrodisiac, the fruits are also processed into dragon fruit ice cream, puto, lumpia and wine.
Malunggay and katuray were also planted on both sides of the pathways to serve as shed. Now, as you walk inside the demofarm, you will notice rows of malunggay and katuray full of fruits and flowers. Soller called it the malunggay and katuray boulevard.
Oyster mushroom is also cultivated through fruiting bags. This project aims to show housewives that growing mushroom can also be a good source of income. The demofarm gathers around 2 kilos of mushroom every other day which they sell in the market and the proceeds are used to maintain the facilities.
Another area was developed into a herbary where one can find more than seventy kinds of medicinal and herbal plants. The provincial government initiated this to show that many plants in the surrounding can cure minor ailments and families can utilize them instead of buying medicines. It is another way of saying that we can go back to basics.
Mangoes from Ilocos Sur are known to be of high quality but farmers hesitate to plant them because they have to wait for at least a decade before these bear fruits. To solve this, the provincial government introduced grafting, a process by which the stock of the mango trees bought in the province is joined with the high quality scion of the Guimaras mango tree. The grafted mangoes are then sold to the farmers in a much lower price as compared with those being sold in private farms in Ilocos Sur and other provinces.
(More next week)