Farmers Deserve to be Rich

President Benigno Aquino III hands the 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award to Dr. Davide (Photo fromRamon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

President Benigno Aquino III hands the 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award to Dr. Davide (Photo fromRamon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

If someone told you, in all seriousness, that he is making poor farmers rich, you would probably think he was putting you on. That just doesn’t happen in this country.

But there is this one heck of a guy who is doing that – making subsistence farmers rich, even turning some of them into millionaires. The word impossible is not in his vocabulary; it never even crossed his mind at any time.

His story is one for the books.

Take it from some of the farmers he has helped to escape the pains of penury.

Jose Ruben, Sitio Bayabas, Barangay Colawin, Argao, Cebu

Umaani ako ng 3,000 kilos na cauliflower sa P50 per kilo, mababa pa yun pero P150,000 pa din ang kita. Ang gastos mga 20 to 25 thousand lang. After 45 days pwede ka nang mag harvest. Tuloy-tuloy yon sa buong taon. “Dahil sa farming nakabili ako ng Nissan pick-up at Isuzu trooper, at itong bahay na ito. May lupa pa kong binili dun sa kabilang bayan. Malaki ang naitulong sa amin ng training at value formation.”

(I harvest 3,000 kilos of cauliflower every 45 days. At P50 per kilo which is a low price, that comes up to P150,000, less expenses of 20-25 thousand. That’s year-round. From farming I was able to buy a Nissan pick-up and an Isuzu Trooper, and this house. I also bought a piece of land in the next town. We get a lot of help from training and value formation.)

Farmer Jose Ruben (center) at his cauliflower farm in Sitio Bayabas. (Photo from SunStar Cebu)

Farmer Jose Ruben (center) at his cauliflower farm in Sitio Bayabas. (Photo from SunStar Cebu)

Arlene Montejo, Barangay Sudlon, Upland Cebu City

Nagpapaayos kami ng bahay, gagawing dalawang palapag. Galing yung pera sa pagtatanim ng lettuce, cucumber, cabbage at kamatis. Nagsu-supply kami sa fastfood chains tulad ng KFC at saka supermarkets. Dati hirap na hirap kami pero gumanda ang buhay namin dahil tinuruan kaming magtanim ng high value crops. At magdasal, magtiis, at magsipag.”

(We’re renovating our house to have a second floor. The money comes from planting lettuce, cucumber, cabbage and tomatoes. We supply fastfood chains like KFC, and supermarkets. We were very poor, but we are doing well now because we were taught how to plant high value crops and to pray, sacrifice, and be industrious.)

There are many others like Jose and Arlene who are reaping the benefits of a specialized program developed by Dr. Romulo Davide, an audacious dreamer who believes that farmers should not be poor, and has made it his mission to help them overcome poverty.

It all started in the upland barangay of Colawin in the fifth class municipality of Argao in Cebu, a town that was widely regarded as unproductive. It was common for residents to migrate to other places in search of a better life. This was where Davide was born.

As a young boy he worked in the farm fields and grew up with an appreciation of the land, even as he saw how difficult it was for many. He sympathized with the farmers who could not break away from the vicious cycle of poor harvests and loans sharks. It seemed like it was going to stay that way for the rest of their lives. But Davide had other things in mind.

Romulo Davide was fortunate to have a schoolteacher father who believed that education was the key to liberating the impoverished. And that anyone can make it anywhere, even in Argao. The words of his father were forever etched in his mind: “There is no such thing as barren soil, only barren minds.” He took these words to heart; it was a mantra that guided him throughout his life.

The pursuit of education led Davide to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos where he worked his way through college as a student laborer. He obtained his BS Agriculture degree in 1957 and went on to complete post-graduate studies in Plant Pathology and Nematology in the United States.

Going back to UP Los Baños, he worked on plant parasitic nematodes which was the scourge of farmers all over the country, and was eventually recognized as the “Father of Plant Nematology.” But he never lost sight of his dream to unshackle the farmers of Argao.

Davide observed that “Very little science-based information reaches the farmers; they need to have a scientific mind and approach to farming.” Using everything he learned in the fields and in academe, Davide developed an innovative intervention he called the Farmer-Scientist Training Program or FSTP. The objective was to teach farmers how to do experiments, discover effective techniques, manage the market, and increase production.

In 1994, Davide launched FSTP in Barangay Colawin, using the money he received from the Department of Agriculture’s “Outstanding Agricultural Scientist” award. He thought that the mountainous barangay was a good place to start because farmers in upland areas were particularly “underproductive, poor, and hungry.”

The FSTP teaches farmers how to choose the crop varieties that best suit their land, and the adoption of new high-yielding varieties that are resistant to drought and tolerant to flooding. They learn about organic fertilizers such as chicken manure and vermi-compost that are cheaper and effective, allowing big savings in production costs. Likewise new techniques such as intercropping and diversified farming.

To be able to deliver the FSTP objectives of technical empowerment and attitudinal change, Dr. Davide developed a special course for farmers in the UP Los Banos College of Agriculture. Selected farmers are trained, and graduates go back home as “farmer scientists,” teaching others what they learned. They become volunteer technicians who “gather knowledge to scatter.”

“We give our farmers their dignity, says Dr. Davide. “They are the heroes of the land… graduates of UP Los Banos, farmer-scientists, affluent as they learn how to turn farming into a profitable business. They have the potential to earn more than professionals. Those who followed the program faithfully have replaced their nipa huts with concrete bungalows, complete with refrigerators and TV sets.

Farmers have no right to be poor, and we have no right to keep them poor.

What drives Davide’s success is his paternal approach to everything he does. He is not just a mentor but a father, genuinely caring for the farmers under his care. It is not just about appropriate technology, but also marketing linkages and forming cooperatives to maximize the benefits that come from farming.

Then there is the value formation component. A man of deep Christian convictions, Dr. Davide recognizes that positive values and spiritual guidance are essential to change not just the farmers’ way of farming, but how they go about their lives. This way, they can sustain the gains they have accomplished even after he is gone. The results have been inspiring.

Aniceto Alberca, Tomato Farmer, Bgy Colawin, Argao, Cebu

Harvest ko 1400–1500 kilos ng kamatis dalawang beses sa isang linggo. P20,000 din yon kahit mura ang presyo ngayon. Sa isang taon abot sa 600 or 700 thousand ang kita. Madami na akong naipundar – sasakyan, bahay, yung maliit kong sari-sari store. Dati walang-wala ako, ngayon yung anak ko 3rd year high school sa St. Michael, hindi basta-basta tayo makakapag-paaral sa private, magsasaka lang ako. Sa tulong ng training at support program maganda ang buhay ko.”

(I harvest 1400 to 1500 kilos of tomatoes twice a week, that’s P2,000 even with today’s low prices. That comes up to 600 to 700 thousand a year. I’ve been able to buy a vehicle, our house, a small sari-sari store, and my son is now in 3rd year high school at St. Michael. That’s something, a farmer can’t just send his child to a private school. My life is good with the training and support program that I got.)

Dr. Davide has a very personal relationship with the farmers. He finds time to visit them, making sure they stay focused on their work, ready with advice on how to deal with problems, prodding them to keep developing and always on the positive track.

Marciano Agrabio, Barangay Captain, Colawin, Argao

Malaki talaga ang tulong na binibigay ng Farmer Scientist Program ni Dr. Davide. Lumawak po yung kaalaman namin sa pagpapayaman ng mga tanim. Marami sa 700 na magsasaka dito sa Sitio Bayabas ang nakabili ng sariling bahay at sasakyan. At napapag-aral nila ang kanilang mga anak. Yung mga nakatapos, madaling makakuha ng trabaho at yung iba pa nga nangingibang bansa.”

(The Farmer Scientist Program of Dr. Davide has been a big help. It expanded our knowledge in maximizing our crops. Many of the 700 farmers here in Sitio Bayabas were able to buy their own house and vehicle, and send their children to school. Those who graduated are able to find jobs, some find jobs abroad.)

Jose Ruben, Barangay Colawin, Argao

Meron po kaming samahan dito na tinatawag na Plant Farmers Cooperative. Kung mayroong bagong teknolohiya isa-share po namin sa bawat isa. Yung mga values namin sa pamumuhay, tinuturo din ni Dr. Davide. Dapat sipag at tiyaga, at pagdarasal din, para makuha ang magandang buhay.”

(We have an association called the Plant Farmers Cooperative. We share new technologies with each other. Dr. Davide taught us life values – diligence, perseverance, and prayer, to be able to attain a good life.)

Winfredo Macario, Barangay Captain, Sudlon, Cebu

“Itinatag namin ang Lamac Multipurpose Cooperative dahil sa natutuhan namin sa FSTP, para mapalawak ang aming vegetable farming. Nagsimula kami sa isang cluster, nagtesting kami ng 2 buwan kung saan kumita ng P180,000. Ngayon 5 clusters na kami, mga 75 farmers. Yung walang puhunan pinautang o nagloan kaya nakapagtanim. Ang target namin ay makapag-harvest ng isang milyong kilo ng lettuce at iba pang high value crops sa loob ng isang taon.”

(We formed the Lamac Multipurpose Cooperative from what we learned from FSTP so we can grow our vegetable farming. We started with one cluster, tested it for 2 months, and earned P180,000. Now we have 5 clusters with about 75 farmers. Those with no capital got loans to be able to plant. Our target is to harvest one million kilos of lettuce and other high value crops in one year.)

Dr. Romulo Davide devotes his time to improving lives of farmers (Photo from ATI-Department of Agriculture)

Dr. Romulo Davide devotes his time to improving lives of farmers (Photo from ATI-Department of Agriculture)

The FSTP program has been recognized for its contribution in lifting Argao from a 5th class to a 1st class municipality, with farmers’ family incomes rising to unprecedented levels. The town’s economy was boosted by more people having increased purchasing power. Argao’s

Internal Revenue allotment also rose significantly.

The success in Cebu gave the program the impetus to expand to other provinces, fueled by donations and some help from the Agriculture Department, with Dr. Davide at the forefront.

Slowly, the program was introduced in pilot areas in the poorest barangays in Siquijor, Negros Oriental, Bohol, San Jose, Oriental Mindoro, Compostela Valley, Ilocos Norte, among other provinces.

Considerable ground has been covered but a lot more farmers could actually be reached. The problem is scarcity of funds; logistics alone comes with a heavy financial burden. Davide wishes that they could generate more support; it is sad that the larger majority of poor farmers are unable to take advantage of the program. One can only imagine how the farmer scientist program can genuinely reduce poverty in the country’s biggest population sector. In an ideal world, the government and the corporate giants would already be beating a path to Davide’s door.

Far from the corridors of wealth and influence, Dr. Davide lives a quiet, spartan life with his equally simple wife Clara Davide, a retired doctor of veterinary medicine. They live in a modest house in Los Banos which never saw any renovation since they had it some fifty years ago. Still spry and active in his seventies, he credits his good health to camote (sweet potatoes) which he eats every day. He tends about a dozen varieties from different countries, in different colors, in his backyard.

Most of the doctor’s time is spent travelling to the provinces to spread his advocacy. He is spurred by the belief that the future of Philippine agriculture is “very bright if we transfer technologies to the end-users, and make sure that they use it properly.” He adds that the sustainable FSTP practices can also help farmers adapt to climate change easily.

A very modest man, Davide prefers not to bask in his achievements. He sees himself as just an instrument of God, and his mission is far from over. His advocacy keeps him going: “Farmers have no right to be poor, and we have no right to keep them poor.”

For his numerous scientific achievements, Dr. Davide has received no less than 47 national and international awards and citations. These include the ASEAN Achievement Award for Research and Development from the ASEAN Business Forum in 1993; Recognition Award for Outstanding Contribution to Agricultural Development in Asia from the Asian Agricultural Research Development Fund in 1995; and the Distinguished Award in Agriculture, given by the Gamma Sigma Delta International Society of Agriculture in 2007.

He was elected member of the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines in 2002 and was a member of the Board of Regents, the highest policy-making body of the University of the Philippines from 2005-2009. He is now Professor Emeritus at the UPLB.

The 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award recognized Dr. Romulo G. Davide’s “steadfast passion in placing the power and discipline of science in the hands of Filipino farmers, who have consequently multiplied their yields, created productive farming communities and rediscovered the dignity of their labor.”

For all his landmark accomplishments, perhaps the most astounding fact about Davide is that he has never used a computer and his old mobile phone is only for calls and messages. Nothing virtual for him; he is rooted to the real world. He made science and technology work to improve the lives of people by interacting with them directly, without the distractions of the digital universe.

There must be some lesson right there.

Manuel “EG” Hizon is a Manila-based communications specialist who has been engaged in development work projects in the areas of health, environment management, and countryside economic growth.

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