Genes Estialbo: Mother of Organic and Natural Farming in Dao, Capiz

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The question of whether to go organic or not wasn’t much of a choice for Genes Estialbo, a retired agricultural technologist and now a staunch organic advocate. After her daughter and husband died from diseases attributed to unhealthy lifestyle, she now devotes her entire life to organic farming to ensure safe and healthy food for her precious grandchildren and loved ones.

The Barren Land

In 2000, Genes and her husband, Pat, bought a 5,000-square-meter lot in Barangay Matagnop, Dao, Capiz to make it a model farm for organic food production. They dreamt of a new home where they can live safely and eat healthy, naturally grown food.

The couple had worked as agricultural technologists for the municipality and, for decades, encouraged farmers to do conventional farming. Realizing the adverse effects of chemicals, they decided to teach farmers a better alternative – the natural farming system.

Acquiring the land was the first step to fulfill their mission. Unfortunately, two years later, Pat died
of myocardial infraction. “My husband was a very industrious farmer but he was sickly,” Genes recalls. “He used chemical spray and left the empty containers within the vicinity of our home. He suffered from high blood pressure, goiter, and even diabetes. At the age of 54, he passed away. That pushed me to get rid of all chemicals as much as possible to keep my family safe,” Genes says.

Pat’s legacy and burning desire for natural and organic farming lived on in Genes. Even without a partner, she remained true to their dream: to develop the 5,000 sq. m. barren land until it was lush with fruits and vegetables. “Di mo kakayanin yan,” her neighbors would say, for true enough nothing grew but tall grass and weeds. However, Genes did not worry knowing that the very solution was right under her nose.

“Sabi ko sa kanila it’s a matter of tiyaga at sipag lang talaga. Makakaya ko dahil meron na akong alam na technology which is natural and organic farming,” she says.

Both her parents lived a long life, however, they had frequently been ill. This, she also believes, might have been caused by the Green Revolution in the 70’s which promoted high yields by the use of chemicals but posed threats to health.

“Chemical farm inputs are harmful to health and the environment,” she says. “In organic farming, the concept is to restore soil fertility, and in return, the soil will give you good results.”

Bahay Kubo: The Conceptualization of Charity Nature Farm

The family planted madre de cacao to fence the area. The plant is a rich source of nitrogen which could help restore soil fertility. They planted fruit trees like santol, durian, rambutan, mango, coconut, bamboo, and forest trees on the 2,000-square-meter area while the rest was used for home lot and small scale rice and vegetable production.

All went well for Genes and her family. They were happy and their dream slowly became a reality. She would spend weekends in the garden with her daughter, Charity, where they would jest about building a bahay kubo (nipa hut) and plant all the 18 vegetables in the Filipino nursery song.

“Si Charity, my third child, encouraged me na magpatayo ng kubo dito,” she recalls. “Kung ‘di lahat ng vegetables ay at most 90 percent ng nasa song ay natanim na namin sa area at that time.”

“Kaya lang pagka-graduate niya, nagpunta siyang Laguna at doon ay nakahanap ng trabaho sa isang company ng noodles. After three months, umuwi siya dito dahil nagkasakit. Wala daw kasing protective gear ‘pag nagtatanggal sila ng expired ingredients. Nilalagnat siya pero ayaw talaga bumaba yung fever niya kahit ano ang gawin ng doctor. Pumunta kami ng Roxas, Iloilo, at kahit St. Luke’s–Manila kaya lang ganun pa rin ang naging resulta. Nagdecide nalang kaming umuwi as advised by the doctor na pakainin siya ng kulitis (spinach), mga native na gulay at mag pain relievers na lang.”

“Namatay rin si Charity pero yung ginawa naming dalawa, hindi ko makakalimutan kaya ipinangalan ko sa kanya ang Charity Nature’s Farm. Siya kasi yung nagbigay sa akin ng lakas upang magpatuloy sa buhay,” Genes says as she wiped her tears.

Charity was not able to see the bahay kubo that her Nanay Genes built. She would have been proud how far Genes had gone. As Charity Nature’s Farm blossomed in Genes’ care, it has grown to be among the best learning venues for organic farming that radiated throughout and even outside of Dao

A New Partner

Genes found a new partner in the local government unit (LGU) of Dao to support her advocacy upon the approval of the Organic Agriculture (OA) Act of 2010. With growing concern over the intensive use of chemicals, the Dao Organic Agriculture Program evolved with Genes and the LGU, thru the Office of the Municipal Agriculturist, in the front line.

Genes worked closely with Susan Dordas, OA Focal Person and Farmers’ Information Technology Services (FITS) Center Manager to test and improve the system. The aim was to promote sustainable agriculture with Natural Farming Technology, establish household level organic agriculture, and increase consumer awareness on the benefits of natural and organic food.

“The Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS) Learning Site of Genes funded by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) is a major highlight of the program. It serves as a model site for organic agriculture in the province of Capiz,” Susan relates.

Together, they established the techno demo farm for organic rice and vegetable production, sustained the Food Always in the Home (FAITH) and the Gulayan sa Paaralan initiatives, upscaled the bio organic industry in Dao, established the IDOFS learning site, trained thousands of farmers in IDOFS, gained LGU legislative support like the DOAP and the creation of the municipal technical committee, developed various information materials, and even institutionalized the annual farmers’ day celebration where organic products are showcased to increase consumer awareness.

“In 2012, Genes retired as agricultural technologist from the Dao LGU, leaving a lifetime legacy in the hearts of thousands of farmers. We consider her as the Mother of Natural Farming in Dao, and that was how we were able to get the support of the LGU to spread out to farmers the benefits of using organic farm inputs,” Susan added. Among those she inspired were Edu Corcino, a producer of black rice in Dao; Rogine Calllar, a teacher who initiated the Gulayan sa Paaralan in Malonoy High School and in turn inspired students to love farming; and even Susan Dordas herself. “Kami ni ‘Nang Genes ang nag conceptualize ng Dao Organic Agriculture Program and with the support of the local government, the DOAP was launched. Our main goal is to provide safe and nutritious food to the general public,” Susan says.

Dao bagged the regional awards for the most outstanding LGU and Focal Person in Organic Agriculture in Region VI. They were also endorsed as the official entry of Western Visayas for the national level where they won P1 million. “We used the money for organic agriculture projects which benefitted 38 OA practitioners. They also gave a P30,000 incentive for the focal person which we likewise used for the projects,” Susan shares.

Malonoy High School Gulayan sa Paaralan “Si Ma’am Gene ay isa sa aking mga personal consultants,” Gulayan sa Paaralan Manager Rogine Callar relates. “At kung ano ang makita ko sa kanyang garden ay ina-adopt ko rin katulad ng vermi-composting. Sa kanya ko nakuha ang mga African Night Crawlers at, sa feeds preparation, siya rin ang aking gabay kung tama nga ba ang aking ginagawa,” Rogine says.

Malonoy High School Gulayan sa Paaralan engaged not only in vegetable production but fruit trees, too. They also have a fish pond for hito, organic swine, chicken and ducks, and bananas. They have even expanded into lowland and upland organic rice production and now sell products to local consumers but, most importantly, they were able to address malnutrition among their students by encouraging the to plant and eat vegetables and to get involved in agriculture.

“Malaki talaga ang naitulong ng vermicomposting at natural composting lalo na sa estudyante dahil kumikita sila and learn at the same time. Lahat ng kanilang mga tinatanim na herbs kagaya ng stevia, mint, tarragon, basil, at blue ternate ay ginagamit sa welcome beverage sa mga bisita na bumibili na rin ng mga ito,” Rogine adds.

“Natutuwa nga ako dahil natuto na rin ang mga bata ng entrepreneurship. Di lamang sila involved sa crop production, pati na rin sa paggawa ng mga concoction kagaya ng Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO) na ginagamit para mawala ang mabahong amoy sa tirahan ng mga baboy at manok. Sa katunayan, malaki talaga ang naitulong ng learning site sa pagpapalago ng organic farming sa Magtanop,” he further explains.

Organic Black Rice

“Classmates kami ni Genes noong college and mukhang forever pa rin kaming magiging magkaklase dahil sa patuloy naming pag-aaral sa organic,” muses Edu Corcino, one of the many organic practitioners in Dao inspired by Genes. “Siya ang nag-encourage sa akin na magtanim ng organic rice at sa tulong din ni Susan Dordas, ay nakumbinsi akong mag-organic.”

“Gumagawa na rin ako ng mga concoction at maganda talaga ang epekto sa palay, lalo na ang IMO. Dark green ang kulay at mas resistant sa sakit. Ginagamit ko rin ang IMO sa mga manok at hinahalo ko sa kanilang inumin. Kung
mayroong 15 sisiw ang isang manok, isa lang ang namamatay as compared doon sa isang brood na hindi ko ginamitan na lima na lang ang natira!” Edu shares.

“Si Genes ang nag introduce at nagturo sa akin sa OA. Sinusunod ko ang mga advice niya kasi ang mahal ng abono. Sa organic, konti nga lang ang kita pero konti din ang gastos kung ikumpara sa conventional. Kaunti lang kailangan mong bilhin na ingredients kasi sa paligid lang ang kailangan mo sa paggawa ng bokashi,” Edu explains. Bokashi is an organic fertilizer made from animal manure, rice bran, and carbonized rice hull mixed with IMO, fermented plant juice (FPJ), and Oriental Herbal Nutrients (OHN). The
microorganisms, when mixed with the soil, make plants grow healthier by facilitating the absorption of nutrients. It’s all natural.

“Diyan tayo kasi nagkakasakit sa paggamit ng conventional na insecticide, herbicide, at fertilizer,” Edu says. “Sa ngayon, naka-focus ako sa pagtanim ng organic black rice dahil konsumo din ng pamilya ko at na-notice ko na hindi na sila gaanong nagkakasakit. Ngayon kinukulang na talaga ang 70 cavans na produce ko. Wala kasi itong spray, IMO lang ginagamit ko at maganda naman kasi talaga ang epekto. Kaya nga gusto ko mag-convert fully into organic,” Edu shares.

Surviving Yolanda

Charity Natures Farm was severely damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) and, with a heavy heart, Genes had to close it down. However, after a while, she decided to revive it. “Iba talaga yung may capacity, strength, inspiration, at positive thinking because life must go on. Kahit namatay man ang asawa ko’t anak, I still have my two other children and four grandchildren. Gusto ko lang talaga makatulong sa ibang farmers na baguhin ang kanilang pagtatanim,” Genes shares.

“Yung initial na binigay sakin ng ATI na ginamit ko magpatayo ng training center and production center, yung native chicken at babuyang walang amoy. Nawala lahat ng inumpisahan ko gawa ng Bagyong Yolanda. Pati rin yung kinita ko sa trainings na higit-kumulang P70,000 to P100,000 at pati pa yung ibang part ng retirement ko, lahat yun,” Genes sadly recalls.

“Binigyan ako ng mga screen, plastic, flower pots, at garden tools para ma-revive ang Farm. Ayaw ko na sana because I will go back to zero. Yung naiwan na lang talaga is my passion for organic. Wala na yung mga halaman, lahat wala na. Mabuti na lang may ATI na nagbigay ng lakas loob sa akin.”

“Nakapagbigay din yung Department of Agriculture ng P75,000 para sa swine. At least ngayon, mabuti na. Kung sum up ko, hindi na ako zero. Andyan na ako sa 60 to 70 percent recovery. Basta ang passion at energy ko nandiyan pa rin kasi organic yung kinakain ko, organic lahat! Hanggang yung kaisipan ko at kahit ang puso, organic din,” she gladly states.

Meanwhile, Susan shares her support for Genes and her projects, “Isa ang learning site sa nagsilbing inspiration na anything is possible. Kahit maliit lang ang space, magkakapera pa rin talaga. Usually kasi with farmers, to see is to believe. When we promote a project or program, we need to show it to them. Advocating the program was not easy. We had to encourage them to go back to natural farming. It was a slow process from the 38 farmers that adopted to organic farming, there are now about 40 of us. ”There are now three new projects for Dao.
The farmers are currently training for System Rice Intensification (SRI) in partnership with SRI Pilipinas and iRelief Foundation. It is a low water, labor-intensive, organic production method aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced. iRelief has even partnered with Genes to makeher site a demo farm for SRI along with three other sites in Matagnop.

“We are also into agri-herbal tourism kung saan ang Dao ang magiging agri-herbal tourism capital for Capiz since dito nagsimula ang organic. Some women farmers have already started planting herbs,” Susan recounts. “Kung totohanin lang nila ang pagtatanim, they can even earn more as compared to rice. Mint for example sells at P40 per kilo, and sells at P350 when dried,” she adds.

“We are not only for production but consumer awareness as well. We inform them of the health benefits of organic farming. The LGU has signed a pledge of commitment for all consumers to support the program and has even limited farm chemical companies from promoting their products,” Susan shares. “Sana nga lang ay magkaroon na din ng marketing support like trading post para doon pumunta ang consumers.”

Life’s Purpose

“God gave me the gift of life so I will share it with others. This is my life’s purpose. I share my knowledge and experience with everyone without reservation. Even my grandchildren are now learning about gardening,” LGU Dao’s Mother of Organic Farming proudly shares.

“To our future farmers, who are the hope of our nation, I encourage you to take care of our environment. Refrain from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and take care of our soil because it is our source of life. There may be doctors, teachers, and lawyers, but farmers are responsible for growing their food. Produce safe and chemical free food. There is money in farming but, above all, our health is our wealth, ”Genes concludes.

Story by: Jaana G. Tamayo

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