Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My First Farm Visits

I spent the last several days in the province of Bicol and also the province of Quezon. I stayed in a cheap hotel in Naga City across the street from a mall. CocoaPhil arranged for me to connect with one of their technical advisors. She served as my escort, translator, and teacher.

Our first stop was to go to Naga City’s Department of Agriculture in City Hall. There I got to meet the Rural Based Coordinator and also the Agricultural Engineer. After spending the day with them visiting farms and learning about the city’s efforts, I learned that Naga City is doing a pretty good job at balancing urban growth and agricultural support. The city has a motto for being all “S.M.I.L.E.S.” which stands for See-Meet-Invest-Live-Enjoy-Study.  They presented their city as an innovative and wholistic place.

My first farm visit was to a fairly large one owned by a farmer who was also the president of the Naga City Cacao Planters Organization. His goal is for the organization to evolve into a cooperative. Since he is also an engineer, I was impressed with the way he designed his irrigation water ways. After taking a walking tour through his newly planted cacao trees, he had a meal prepared for us.

More Filipino hospitality!

In addition to seeing a farm in Naga City, we also visited several farms in the city of Lupi. Lupi was about an hour away from Naga City so it was more rural. I got to meet about a dozen farmers who had already gathered to meet me. Together, our group took walking tours through three cacao farms. I also got to see much of their barangay called Bulawan Junior. A barangay is kind of like a subsection of a city district, like a rural area with several neighborhoods. After the tour, of course they prepared a meal for everyone to eat.

On another day, we drove even further to the neighboring province of Quezon. A province is kind of like a county. We visited the town of Tagkawayan. I got to meet the Municipal Agriculturalist (the department head) and some of their staff. Then a pair of agricultural aides took us out to visit a few more farms.

In total, I was able to visit 10 farms and meet about 25 farmers. I was not expecting to see such diversity in cacao farming. It was interesting to see that all 10 farms had very different landscapes. Some farmers planted their cacao trees on very hilly terrain. Some planted on very flat land. Some had plenty of shade and others inappropriately had too much sun. Intercropping means that they plant two or three different kinds of trees next to each other. It’s common to intercrop coconut trees, banana trees, and cacao trees. Cacao trees require 80-90% shade while they are seedlings and about 50% shade while they are medium sized. So the coconut trees provide the permanent shade cover higher up and the banana trees provide the immediate shade cover closer to the ground. It was interesting to see the various designs that the farmers used to plant their trees. Some used a triangle design. Others planted the different trees in rows. Others seemed to have a more random design. I got to see very good designs that resulted in healthy trees. I also got to see poor designs that resulted in unproductive or slow-producing trees.

I learned that agriculture is an art – both in growing and in design. The farmer can be as creative as he or she likes in the landscape of their crops. I loved that I could see the personality of the farmer through the way he or she artistically (or not artistically) placed the trees, built irrigation systems, and the maintenance of weeds.

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