Hangga’t ating ortelanung magkasakit, eku tuknang. Gawan ku ing gagawan ku” (for as long as there are farmers who struggle for livelihood, I will continually thrive and do my duty), the seasoned farmer Mr. Nestor Garcia uttered with conviction. This has been his guiding principle in his 50 years of farming experience.
Garcia started farming at the young age of 10. His father and uncle, who were both farmers in Pampanga, would tag him along as soon as works in the field commenced.
In the 1970’s, his uncle, a member of the Samahang Nayon (now known as Barangay Agricultural and Fisheries Council) in Lambac, Guagua, Pampanga, influenced the young Nestor Garcia to participate in the said farmers’ organization.
It was the beginning of his active involvement in various farmer groups such as the Agricultural and Fisheries Council (AFC) – an organization originally crafted from Mindanao. In due recognition of his leadership roles in agricultural sector, he was awarded by several government organizations such as the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in July 9, 2010 and the Municipal Agricultural and Fisheries Council (MAFC) of Guagua in 2010. His renowned practice of organic farming conferred him the Magsasaka Siyentista (MS) award by the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Guagua in 2008.
His remarkable accomplishments as a farmer leader made him a great choice to host the DAR-initiated TV program which was aired for two years under the GNN’s channel, a Pampanga-based local channel. The TV program entitled “Pupul: Kwento Ning Bayung Ortelanu” highlighted developments in agriculture and entrepreneurship. The program featured farmers and their alternative sources of income such as mushroom cultivation.
He said that the accomplishments that he has been receiving as a farmer and a farmer leader would not be possible without the assistance given to farmers like him by agriculture-affiliated government institutions such as the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Aquatic Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and the Agricultural Training Institute of the Department of Agriculture (DA-ATI) and State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).
His attendance to these agency-sponsored seminars and trainings has helped him improve his knowledge and skills in farming. Though he was not able to attain higher education, he is determined to learn by actively participating in agricultural initiatives. He believed that this will equip him with the tools he needed in order to improve his craft.
Farming with a purpose
Despite the fluctuating number of active members in the Magsasaka Siyentista program in Pampanga during his time, Garcia was one of the few who persisted in order to continue serving his fellow farmers. He expressed his difficulty in educating local farmers, especially when their farming practices are being challenged. He is deeply disheartened when farmers attend his trainings on Integrated Pesticide management (IPM) but remained reluctant to discontinue their use of chemically-induced (synthetic) pesticides. In the face of all these adversities, Garcia remained firmly committed to his advocacy of raising the consciousness of his fellow farmer.
Practicing what he preaches
Garcia adopts organic farming practices in his farm and vegetable garden in Lambac, Guagua, Pampanga. He uses madre de cacao as natural safety nets against the synthetic pesticides used by his neighboring farms. He believes that every farmer should master his environment. That other insects have important roles in the environment. For example, farmers frequently use synthetic pesticides to terminate stem borers. However, he stressed that if these are detected at the onset of production, they could lessen, and even exclude, the use of synthetic pesticides.
Several scientific studies have already shown the dangers of chemically-induced or synthetic agriculture inputs (such as pesticides) in the environment. The changes in climate conditions that are being experienced now adversely affect farmers and their livelihood. Garcia is just one of the few farmers who have already realized their responsibility to the environment.
Organic rice as a viable enterprise
Initially motivated to grow eggplant as a commodity, Garcia diverted his efforts in growing organic rice instead due to lack of institutional funding for eggplant. With his limited production of organic rice, he supplies for the local market of Lambac only. As his organic produce becoming known in the province, he started supplying organic rice to neighboring communities. His organic rice is priced relatively lower than other rice products in the market. For 22 pesos per kilo, he was able to produce just enough for his family and his community’s consumption. With the lower price of his organic rice, he has helped his community avail of not only cheaper but also environment-friendly, healthy and nutritious rice. When asked if he is still gaining profit from his low-priced produce, he said he could have discontinued this enterprise if he is not earning from it.
Cooperatives in his community also play significant role especially to small scale rice growers. They lend farmers machineries such as de-hullers, harvesters, and dryers. These kinds of assistance indeed ease the relatively hard labor of farmers.
On Being a Magsasaka Siyentista
The assistance provided by the Magsasaka Siyentista program and other agricultureaffiliated agencies to farmers like Garcia has nurtured him as a farmer, leader, and environment advocate. The 60-year old farmer leader has gained recognitions in the farming industry. From a simple local farmer to BAFC Leader (2007); AFC active member (2004); Magsasaka Siyentista of Guagua; multiawarded MAFC leader (October 19, 2012); Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awardee (MOKA) of 2011; and Pampanga representative at the Office of Provincial Agriculturist (OPA) since 2010.
Farming has been stereotyped as poor man’s work. But Garcia is just one of the many farmers in the country who has proven that farming can be a rewarding career. It did not only bring success to his own records but such determination also brought his family to a fulfilling life. He is a father to an agriculturist, an architect, and an engineer. When asked what makes his 50-year farming venture a rewarding experience? Garcia had a simple answer: “being able to help my fellow farmers improve their lives.”