Commuters would catch a glimpse of what seems like a brown ocean by the side of the road in Barangay Cogon, Sigma, Capiz. One would wonder how that came to be, considering there are communities that can be viewed from across the waters. Passersby can be perceiving it as a tragic effect of calamities, as rice fields are lying beneath it. But to the people of Barangay Cogon, it is an opportunity for income generation.
When September comes, there would be boats ready to carry about one to two people from the community to the highway to gain access to goods and services. One of these boats is owned by Robelyn M. Japsay, a 43-year-old local farmer living on the highest point of Sitio Balud, of the said barangay.
THE CHALLENGING JOURNEY
In 2018, the community was classified as “vulnerable and hazardous” for being a low-lying area and “catch basin” of water as a result of the Climate Risk Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA) conducted by ATI Region 6 together with the Local Government of Sigma. In the case of Barangay Cogon, torrential rainfall from June to the end of the year result in, sporadically, heavy flooding.
Hence, ATI Region 6, in coordination with LGU Sigma, identified farmers and households as recipients of the Climate Resilient Agriculture (CRA) Program.
One of the beneficiaries of the CRA Program is Robelyn, a wife and mother of two, and currently the Vice President of the Cogon CRA Farmers Association. Her husband is originally the lone farmer and provider of the family. Despite having a humble source of living, life, as she would put it, was tough and unkind, mostly because they lack the capability and resources.
RISING FROM COMPLACENCY
“Ang attitude sang mga tawo di sang una, kuntento na sila. Wala na sila gapangita iban nga pamaagi. Amo nalang kami sini, baton nalang namon. [People would be contented with what they have, they do not look for further means. They just accept their situation and not do much about it]”, recalled Robelyn whenever calamities hit their area. Progress seems unattainable for her community since floods regularly damage crops and plantations. “Wala kami kabalo nga damo gali pwede nga mangin solusyon, [We had not thought of the fact that there are countless solutions]”, she regretfully remembered.
Robelyn dreamed of putting up a Sari-sari Store where she could earn additional income for the family. She also assisted in cultivating their land, in planting vegetable crops for household consumption. They even had a small pigpen. Little did she know that her perseverance would pay off, and it would happen progressively.
ALL HANDS ON-DECK
Despite not having finished her tertiary education, her determination to access and deliver goods to her clients paved her way to earn extra income during the wet season. Robelyn was determined to provide the needs of her family as her sons are school-aged. The CRA Program opened opportunities for her and her fellow association members through training and mentorship, along with after-training support from ATI. Equipped with the knowledge and skills gained from the trainings that she had attended together with other farmers and the support of her husband, she delved further into farming and gardening sometime in 2020.
“Ang mga training ko sa ATI kag ang mga benchmarking nga ginhimo namon sa iban nga farm kag garden, nagpabakud gid sang akon determinasyon nga makangita paagi sa pag-pananom, [My training with ATI and the benchmarking that we conducted with other farms and gardens solidified my determination to earn from gardening]”, stressed Robelyn. With an estimate of 500 square meters land area, she put up her mini-farm and backyard garden supported by her family.
“Ginakadlawan pa kami sang iban kay, mapula daw amon duta, paano kami kapatubo, [People would laugh at us, they think we cannot succeed due to the state of our soil]”, Robelyn spoke about some challenges, but it never bothered her. Her tenacity pushed her to grow assorted vegetables and crops, practice the Sustainable Pig Farming (SPF) technology, breed assorted poultry and free-range chicken, put up a decent fish pond, assign an area for vermicomposting, establish a mini greenhouse, provide additional support for her husband as they farm and trade rice, and pay-off their sari-sari store loan from private individuals.
Robelyn proudly shares that her children are on-board in tending to the garden and selling their harvest. After a year of saving, they successfully had their comfort room tiled and their kitchen sink repaired and furnished. Furthermore, they were able to invest in household needs like a washing machine and wardrobe cabinet. Her sons were able to purchase second-hand bicycles from their savings, and this motivated the kids to keep contributing to their livelihood.
PUTTING ONE FOOT AHEAD OF THE OTHER
Significantly, their life changed. And so did Robelyn’s role and reputation around their neighborhood. As her harvest grew, so did the number of people that relied on her for food, especially during calamities. People would buy cucumber, cabbage, lettuce, ladies’ fingers, and bitter melon from her garden. Some would message her via Facebook Messenger for reservations. She jokingly subscribes to the thought of flood, because it means income for her. “Pwede gali ka-gardening biskan may baha, [You can succeed in gardening even if your area gets flooded]”. She would also encourage her neighbors to plant for their food supply. She also valued honesty and if people admit to not having any money, she would give vegetables for free. “Gusto ko gid ya makabulig kag matudluan man ang mga tawo kung paano mag-tipid, [I aim to help and teach our neighbors to be thrifty]”, Robelyn says thoughtfully.
The Local Government Unit of Capiz and organizations also saw potential in Robelyn’s work. In result, her garden won first place in a vegetable gardening contest sponsored by the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist. On top of it, she also won an award from the Department of Education, which recognized house gardening endeavors as part of their Brigada Eskwela campaign.
Because of her farming efforts, and her practices serving as an inspiration to the locality, Robelyn became an important part of the community, as well as the community became a big part of her. By footing one foot ahead of the other, her goals started to materialize.
Having the highest elevation in terms of area, their community chose her land to become the home of the local livestock evacuation center, a facility unique to Western Visayas. CRA Farmers have identified Sustainable Pig Farming as their livelihood and an emergency evacuation center is crucial in sustaining it, hence, ATI Region 6 established the said facility as part of the solution. The evacuation center also serves as a multi-purpose hall where the CRA farmers can conduct training and gatherings.
She cites that the operation and maintenance of the evacuation center is still a challenge, even with the help of her co-members. Her family would end up looking out for all the pigs brought to their area during the floods. Being a leader, however, she asserts to push forward, no matter the hardships. Along with the evacuation center are other grants from the Department of Agriculture that their association has to manage. A hatcher and incubator were provided for the utilization of farmers in the area, for example. “Kinanglan pa gid namon training para mas mag-kabalo kami sa pag-operate sa mga ginpang-hatag namon. Mangita gid kami bulig, [“We need training to effectively operate all the opportunities provided to us. We will ask for further help”] she planned.
Similar to her association, Robelyn aspires for her home. She wants to improve her fish pond, give it solid protection from the floods. “Ang taga-DA, may nag-feedback abi sa akon nga posible mas dako ang kitaon sa fish pond kesa sa baboy, [I have been advised that income is possibly higher from fish ponds compared to hog farming,]” she hoped. A bigger greenhouse would also boost her operations. She dreams of a greenhouse much like what she saw in Boracay, from ATI’s project for the Ati community. A larger vermicomposting bed would also help in the sustainability of the garden. On top of it all, she calls for a sufficient water supply system to address existing struggles experienced by the locality. All of those goals will be achieved in good time, according to Robelyn. In the meantime, Robelyn would like to focus on urgent challenges, specifically the state of the family’s dilapidated boat and a recent incident that rendered it useless.
“Mapahimo kami tani mas dako nga bangka, para mas damo maikarga kag mabaligya nga ani kag feeds, [We will have a bigger boat constructed, so we can load and trade more harvest and transport bigger amounts of feeds,” Robelyn aimed. In this new undertaking, it is safe to say that Robelyn considered steps not just for her family. In thoughts and actions, her community would be all aboard.