John C. Maxwell once defined success as “Choosing the arena of action, determined to give yourself to that cause, which will better mankind, and last for eternity.”
It is rare for someone to base their own happiness and satisfaction from the success of others, but for Gemma Cania, or Ma’am Gem as she is fondly called, the contented smiles of her clients have been her real joy for almost 15 years of being a public servant.
Gem has always been in love with business and agriculture for as long as she remembers. She took her tread closer to the trade she loves when she enrolled at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City. “Because I love agriculture, my first choice was agribusiness, then second was economics. However, both were not available at that time, so I enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Agriculture major in Animal Science.”
She graduated in 1997 and landed a job as an agricultural technician in the local government unit (LGU) in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. She has then risen from the ranks and is presently the Municipal Agricultural Officer.
“The hardest part about working in an LGU is its politically charged environment. I was only 21 when I first experienced political discrimination,” she quipped with a wry smile. But she has learned to survive and triumph.
The drive to see more happy and contented faces out of her services has been her motivation to remain in the profession she vowed to serve. When swayed by challenges, her passion for agriculture has been her strongest foundation.
“My dream is to change the agricultural landscape of Manolo Fortich, from purely production orientation to marketing and business,” she said.
The municipality is one of the richest municipalities in the province of Bukidnon in terms of agricultural crop production. “Yet, many of our farmers are barely thriving,” she added.
According to the National Statistic Coordination Board, despite being one of the agri-business centers in the country, Bukidnon has been classified as one of the poorest provinces in Mindanao.
“Our Mayor, who is a very successful businessman, has long been requesting us to train our farmers on record-keeping so they would know if they are gaining profit or losing,” she shared.
“Farm Business School (FBS) is heavensent,” she muttered, smiling. She said her interest peaked when she first heard about an invitation from the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) Regional Training Center (RTC) X on a Training on FBS. She even sacrificed her chance to finish her thesis just to join the training. “FBS is very timely. I think it is the answer to our Mayor’s request. It is a training which would give us the other side of farming, the business side. It is a rare opportunity,” she added.
Gem participated in the 10-day Intensive Training of Trainers (TOT) on FBS at Veranda, Casisang, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. She learned that FBS aims to capacitate smallholder farmers in pricing their products, identify product and volume needs in the market, value-adding, and business plan preparation.
“I could feel the excitement of bringing the modality to our farmers,” she expressed. After the training, Gem immediately conducted the Season-long Farmers’ Field School (FFS) Training in July 2015.
“We have oriented 50 farmers on our first day, yet only 35 participants, composed of 32 farmers and three agriculture extension workers (AEWs), persevered,” she noted.
Gem aimed that after the FFS, each of the participants would develop their own processed products based on the commodity they produced and the demands of the market.
“I made sure from the very start that those invited have potentials to go into business,” she said.
“Manolo Fortich has huge potential for business. It grows various commodities such as peanut, cassava, coffee, pineapple, carrot, lettuce, and other upland-based crops,” she added.
Gem faced challenges in conducting the training. She had a problem on facilitation, especially since she lacked manpower to help her discuss topics and, at the same time, moderate the class at times when she found them difficult to organize.
“My secret is just patience and I was challenged by their interest,” she shared. “I convinced them by citing examples of lives who were changed through the program. During the FFS, I keep on encouraging them that they could earn more through value-adding,” she quipped.
With persistence and passion to serve, Gemma howed how challenges became manageable.
During their graduation, participants showcased their own processed products. Most of their products were developed while undergoing the FBS. She also invited officials from the LGU, national agencies, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the ATI.
“My husband was skeptical at first when I joined the FBS. However, after graduation, orders of products that I have developed during the training poured in. He helped me meet the demands of the market. Now, he is very supportive of me.” This was shared by Joymie Remerata, one of the graduates of the FBS. Joymie and her fellow graduates are now receiving regular orders from caterers and other food establishments in the area. They also market their products through social media. They are also planning to advertise their products at FilFarm, an e-Trading site administered by the ATI.
Gem also created a Facebook group where they could post pictures of their products. Many received bulk orders from it.
Gem newly found challenge is how to sustain the productivity she nourished in the group.
“I encouraged them to first meet monthly so they could always update each other, and share new ideas,” she mentioned.
Through common interest which is business, the group has successfully strengthened their bond and later decided to register at the Security Exchange Commission. The group was registered as FBS Manolo Fortich.
Shortly, the group started joining mal events where they could have a chance to display heir processed products. “They also initiated developing new products, and labelling as well as packaging,” she quipped with pride in her eyes.
“As of now they have spicy vinegar, sugarcoated peanut, salted peanut, peanut butter, bokayo nut, roasted peanut, turmeric tea, cassava suman, cassava cake, cassava cream milk, cassava bibingka, pichipichi, cassava roll, pineapple jam, coffee (Excelsa, Robusta, Arabica), tablea, carrot-pineapple jam, honey, bee pollen, malunggay cookies, malunggay brownies, calamansi Juice, rice puto, taro chips, papaya atchara, and sayote atchara,” she added.
“We are working on having a Pasalubong Center to showcase products. This project is with the Department of Tourism, and the Manolo Fortich LGU,” she informed. The group, through Gem’s guidance, are also coming up with a development plan for the organization. This is to ensure the sustainability and continuity of the group. Gem has also requested the ATI for the conduct of capabilitybuilding activities to strengthen organizational leadership and skills enhancement.
“We should not stop giving hope to them, in their happiness, our heart beats,” she said with pride.
Story by: Honeylou G. Cababaros