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Lazara “Manay Ning” Nibungco: Woman in Motion

GUINOBATAN, ALBAY – Home-based but not helpless.

This perfectly describes Lazara Nibungco – wife, mother, former teacher, civic leader, and home-based entrepreneur of Travesia, Guinobatan, Albay.

Now 65 years old, Manay Ning grows various vegetables and culinary herbs in small, compact gardens around the family home and on its rooftop.

She uses organic farming techniques such as vermicomposting and application of natural farming inputs to enrich the soil and keep plant pests to a minimum.

Her gardens features productive, maximized spaces with open beds or improvised tunnel-type rain shelters. The latter shows her inquiring, solution-oriented nature. She designed the rain shelter, she said, using ordinary plastic she bought at the local market after the vegetable seedlings she planted one afternoon were completely wiped out by heavy rains that came in the evening.

Among the vegetable and herbs she grows around the house are four kinds of lettuce, Japanese cucumber, parsley, peppermint, lemongrass, spring onion, stevia, upland kangkong, sweet basil, citronella, and eggplants. After harvests, she also plants nitrogen-fixing peanuts.

In pots, she grows lemon basil, rosemary, lavender, peppermint, stevia, tarragon, gynura procumbens, and even strawberry.

On her rooftop garden, she grows purple-colored, romaine, iceberg, and carlo rosa lettuce with other crops.

Vermi ventures

“I never sprayed chemicals – that was my intention when I acquired vermi from Dr. Guerrero,” relates Manay Ning. “My first vermi stock was from Dr. Guerrero of PCAMRD (Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development). I read his column in agriculture magazine. I emailed him and he said ‘Oh, you’re welcome to come.’ When I was in Manila I called him up to ask how to go to Los Baños. Each kilo costs P1,000 but he added one more kilo. I even signed a MOA and told me ‘Ikaw ang magpaparami nyan dun.’ I did not inform him when I lost the stocks, but when we saw each other in Agri-Link I re-introduced myself and told him I lost the stocks. He said, ‘Talagang ganyan ang first time sa vermicomposting.’”

Today, Manay Ning successfully grows African Night Crawlers in compost piles around her home. She gets her potting medium, soil conditioner and organic fertilizer from the vermicompost produced.

Training with ATI

Manay Ning started growing vegetables such as eggplant and okra in 2006. In October 2007 to January 2008, she attended a Season-Long Training on Protective Culture of Vegetables conducted by ATI at Barangay Travesia, Guinobatan, Albay. It was attended by 27 farmers and three barangay officials, divided into groups. Manay Ning’s group worked on organically grown vegetables. She credits the training for reinforcing her interest in organic farming.

After attending the training, she looked for new stocks of African Night Crawlers from local sources.

She was also selected by ATI to take part in the study mission to successful organic ventures, such as the Costales Nature Farms in Laguna.

A thirst for knowledge

A former high school teacher – for four years she handled challenging subjects such as chemistry, physics, and geometry – she stopped working to attend full-time to her growing family.

“Even at home I never stopped reading,” Manay Ning says. She compiled photocopied articles from magazines on vermicomposting, growing crops and other topics. When she has questions or wanted to know more about farming, she would flip among her collection of reading materials. “I bought books about Filipinos into organic farming.”

Her innate interest on organic farming prods her to attend various conferences and trade fairs in Manila, shouldering the costs herself.

Organic hogs

Her husband’s livestock trading business led her to have her own commercial piggery. Her first venture was traumatic, she says, because neighbours complained about the foul smell of the pig dung to barangay officials. She stopped the project altogether, although she incurred a lot of investments. When she learned about a commercial feeds that promise to grow pigs without the foul smell, she revived the six-sow level project five years ago.

“I learned about charcoal and using CRH (carbonized rice hull) as beddings through a series of trainings conducted by ATI.” She also learned about greens and plants that can be fed to naturally grown hogs.

Now, she is raising odor-free pigs just a few steps from their bedroom window. She grows the plants eaten by the animals – madre de agua, indigofera, and even gynura procumbens. She uses papaya leaves as dewormer, and madre de cacao as skin antiseptic to get rid of external pests.

“I want to share this to the barangay,” Manay Ning states. She says growing organic hogs should start with the planting kangkong, indigofera, madre de agua, talinum, and malunggay…”

Manay Ning’s practice has also spilled over to the way she grows native chicken. She feeds these with ground oregano, madre de agua, and kuhol.

A leader

Manay Ning is secretary of the Travesia Livelihood and Training Center (TLTC) which ATI helped set up. She is also the secretary of the local Senior Citizens group, and treasurer of Guinobatan Pastoral Council.

However, her civil leadership roles do not stop her from pursuing farming. A vigilant organic agriculture advocate, Manay Ning was selected by ATI as core partner in the development of organic agriculture zone in Albay.

Her home-based farm is an emerging destination of study tours on organic agriculture. Among her farm visitors were Japanese, Australian, and local tourists.

Informal markets

Manay Ning herself sells her produce e every Saturday in Legazpi City. Her buyers would usually be health buffs – joggers and people doing group exercises at a seaside boulevard. However, buyers are infrequent when it rains, so she would end up with her produce going back home with her. She also delivers to friends and acquaintances in Guinobatan and nearby areas. “We communicate through text,” Manay Ning relates.

Each kilo of her organically grown lettuce costs only P35. She also sells naturally grown pork at the same price as conventionally grown.

Understandably, Manay Ning hopes that this system will improve. “Ang gusto ko maging regular an market ko, almost 5,000 monthly ang bayad sa caretakers, sana self-liquidating ang business.”