The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ famous quote “there is nothing permanent in this world, except change” is reflective of what Ronilo Gines, the Magsasaka Siyentista of Llanera, Nueva Ecija, believed in.
The Llanera, Nueva Ecija farmer grew up dreaming a career not on land, but on the vast ocean. In 1982, he took his two-year bachelor’s degree in marine engineering at Pangasinan Merchant Maritime Academy for a chance to become a seaman someday.
But the sudden death of the man who is supposed to serve as his liaison in his seaman’s career changed his plans. Fortunately, he inherited approximately half (900 square meters) of his grandfather’s farmland. Since then, he embraced farming as his profession and source of living.
He started growing onions. Since he profited from his first harvest, he rented a lot in order to increase his production.
Impacts of climate change
Climate change remains a constant problem ever since he ventured into farming. Ronilo narrated one of the many difficult times that he has encountered as a farmer. It was November of 1987 when the first great drought hit Llanera. Their livelihoods had no chance of surviving the adverse impacts of that drought. Most young men moved to Manila to seek better livelihood opportunities to support their families. It was such a trying time; they could only find palay on the outskirts of the rice paddy (pilapil). He only harvested an average of one to three bins (cavan) from his one hectare farm. This incident forced him to join those who earlier moved to Manila. Ronilo spent almost two years as a construction worker but later on, decided to return to Llanera and start anew.
He bought onion seeds when he passed by Divisoria. These he planted in his farm in Llanera. That small investment paid off and he never left Caridad Sur again for another job.
He never attributed his success to “luck”, instead, he believed it is a product of his relentless efforts in enriching the opportunities bestowed upon him. He said that each of us receives blessings from above. If we will not manage these blessings properly, we will also lose the opportunity to improve our lives.
The problem caused by extreme drought in the livelihoods of the farmers in Llanera has been resolved through the provision of a water system for the farmers through the initiative of its local government.
The perks of being a Magsasaka Siyentista
For over three decades of farming, the 53-year-old MS tried almost every possible way to increase his yield and gain more profit. He did not focus solely in farming onions. He also had several other productions at work. Now, he is also venturing in vegetable production, swine industry, and other rice varieties. His son Alvin, who recently graduated with the degree in Entrepreneurship, started a vermicompost fertilizer business.
Just like all the other farmers who are eager to learn new techniques in farming, he also immersed himself in trainings sponsored by agriculture-based agencies like the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI). He continuously adopts in his farm the techniques he learned and the technologies that were introduced to him. He said that these opportunities will not be possible if he has not been accorded with the title Magsasaka Siyentista (MS) in 2014.
“It is really challenging to become an MS. It is accompanied by greater responsibility of developing agricultural innovations that would later on be useful to farmers,” he explained. But that challenge of being an MS and a role model farmer serve as an opportunity for Gines to improve the quality of his production.
Because of the very humid environment, crops in Caridad Sur often dry out and die immediately. It is so dry that if you water the plants, the water would evaporate within seconds. Living in this harsh condition, MS Gines thought of and executed a solution that might solve the heat problem. He placed water hoses directly to the plants’ roots and re-scheduled planting in May or June to allow enough time to gather rainwater which will be stored directly into the water hoses. Hence, when summer comes, there would be enough water for the plants.
He also adopted the intercropping and crop rotation techniques in his farm. Intercropping refers to the process of planting wherein the farmer is encouraged to plant two or more crops in proximity. It maximizes the yield and also allows other crops to flourish at the same time with the main crop. The latter is defined as a process of rotating the succession of different crops in an area. For example, if the main crop is planted in a particular time, the farmer is encouraged to plant other crops in the following season. He said that he practices crop rotation because the soil in Caridad Sur has worn out, thus, different crops must be planted every now and then. It is also being practiced to avoid pests to propagate in their farms.
The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and his fellow farmers are amazed with the techniques Gines were able to innovate. The recognitions he received from government institutions as well as the praises he gets from his fellow farmers are affirmations that he should continue what he is doing. Just recently, he finished a one-year course in agriculture under the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEEAP) of Central Luzon State University (CLSU).
Three decades may have been a long journey, but for Ronilo, his son and his family, this is just the beginning.
He admitted that he is not a fan of organic farming before as it requires more labor. And even though there is market for organically grown crops, it has significantly lower yield than the synthetically grown ones.
Later on he realized that with proper marketing strategy, organic farming could be profitable. Now he is not just selling organic produce but is also advocating for a safer and healthier way of living by consuming organic products. More consumers are increasingly becoming health conscious, that’s why organic products are really on the rise.
More than just a livelihood
Gines explained that farming is not just about submerging your feet in the mud, planting and harvesting. It is more complicated than that. Like a scientist, farmers should be innovative and should veer away from the traditional practices that are no longer suitable given the changing climate conditions. And of course, like an entrepreneur, farmers should also know the business side of farming. Based on his experiences, he realized that farming is not just a livelihood. It can be a lucrative business if only farmers would be enterprising.
One strategy he learned and adapted is integrated farming. Before, he only focused on onion production, but he knew it is a seasonal crop. As his land gradually expanded, he tried to integrate other crops like vegetables and rice. That way he was able to produce and sell different crops and earn profit all year round.
Unlike the risk-taker, MS Gines is a prudent one. He critically examines first all possible scenarios before he adopts techniques and technologies.
Despite the challenges that he has experienced in farming, like droughts, and the difficult life that he had been through, he never thought of them as misfortunes. Rather, he worked them out to his advantage; looking at them as opportunities. That mentality made him what he is now.