Negros Occidental is at the forefront of pushing for organic agriculture in the country, bringing a steady increase in the demand for organically-grown and pesticide-free crops and vegetables throughout the province.
Among the Negros towns with fertile grounds ideal for organic vegetable farming is the upland municipality of Salvador Benedicto. Most barangays here, however, have poor access to the farm-to-market roads, a weighty reality for the farmers in terms of marketing their products to the nearby communities.
The residents, like in many rural isolated areas, have to traverse steep slopes when bringing their farm products to the market. Some folks use improvised transportation means such as a “karosa”, a traditional carrier made of bamboo, usually pulled by a carabao to transport goods to the market; while “habal-habal’’, a motorcycle taxi that carries load beyond capacity, is rented to minimize time with a minimum fare of Php 200 to and fro.
Ubaldo Ceralbo Jr., also known as ‘Mang Makaw’ is one of the farmers in Sitio Kawayan, Pandanon. The community and its people are less privileged, accessing very little of the basic public services due to impassable roads. This usually leads to the delay in not just agricultural livelihood assistance, but other opportunities from the government which could have uplifted the status of each upland villager.
Despite that, Mang Makaw and the rest of the farming communities persevere and cultivate their lands by growing crops and rearing animals to survive, feed their families, and send their children to school, if possible.
Mang Makaw and his wife Diana have nine (9) kids who motivate them to work harder for basic food and needs sustenance. Despite their family’s challenges, he still has the vision to help other farmers in their community and made this possible by organizing the farmers into a group.
The Pandanon Integrated Upland Small Farmers’ Association (PIUSFA) aims to empower community folks in Salvador Benedicto to strive harder. The group was formed with 19 members several years ago but registered at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in 2019. Mang Makaw believes that organizing into an association can be advantageous to the community and is fundamental in accessing state-sponsored assistance.
Group’s inclusion in SAAD
The temperate climate and fertile grounds of their area make it favorable for the cultivation of a wide range of lowland and highland vegetables. However, the PIUSFA farmers produce food enough for consumption only.
The poor yields were due to the unavailability of high-quality seeds, planting materials, and inadequate water supply during dry months.
It was until the Department of Agriculture Special Area for Agricultural Development (DA-SAAD) Program reached their place and introduced the opportunities it wishes to offer. The group was chosen as one of the beneficiaries since their community in Pandanon belongs to Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDA) and communities with high poverty incidence. The community seldom receives assistance from the government due to challenges in distance, weather conditions, and transportation resulting in a socio-economic disadvantage for the members of the community.
In May 2021, the PIUSFA, with selected 10 first-in-line beneficiaries to manage the ginger production under the program, was granted the Vegetable Production Project worth Php 1,194,800.
The assistance was composed of 1,000 kilograms (kg) of ginger rhizomes, harrows, three plows, and three heads of caracow, which they immediately used in a three-hectare (ha) combined farm area.
Prior to the distribution of farm inputs, the group was trained on the farming system covering land preparation, seed propagation to transplanting, fertilization, manual pollination, trellising, irrigation, integrated pest management, and proper harvesting procedures.
Ginger: a challenging crop, but well worth the effort
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a traditional crop that is easy to cultivate and can easily adapt to a broad range of agro-ecological conditions. This flowering plant whose rhizomes, ginger root or ginger are used both as a spice and a medicine, thrives in all parts of Negros Occidental and is found cultivated in small patches for local demand.
It is very much used by locals in the province to add flavor to some common dishes like tinola, goto, arroz caldo, paksiw, batchoy, and pinakbet. It is also used as an ingredient in the manufacture of perfumes, soft drinks, candies, and pickles.
The top health benefits of ginger may include its ability to help relieve nausea and pain, improve respiratory conditions, and reduce flatulence. Ginger also helps boost bone health, strengthen the immune system, and increase appetite.
Cultivating ginger is not a walk on the “farm”, it requires time, labor, and water. However, the crop adds good cash flow to a farming business, according to the PIUSFA farmers.
As a first-timer in ginger production, they acknowledged that the crop is labor-intensive, thus entailing a lot of time.
“Ang pagtanum sang luy-a makapoy kag manual gid ang proseso. Indi masarangan sang isa lang ka tawu sa pag-harvest, hugas kag pag-store” (Ginger farming is labor-intensive and most of the processes are manual. Harvesting, washing, and storing could not be done by one person alone), Mang Makaw said.
Crop Rotation. The PIUSFA president shared their farming practices that improve their organic production such as crop rotation or planting a different crop on the same plot planted with ginger to prevent soil diseases, weed problems, insect pests, and for building healthy soils. To reduce the build-up of pathogens and pests in the soil, Pandanon farmers give at least a month of rest or nutrient replenishment to the area before planting ginger rhizomes again or other high-value crops such as bell pepper.
Water Management. Mr. Victor Belegorio, a PIUSFA member, also admitted that water management for the said crop can be challenging to organic production. The roots, he said, must not be drenched in water as this leads to incidence of phytophthora, a spore-producing pathogen requiring water to thrive and spread resulting in a build-up of fungi and bacteria.
Soil Requirement. The organically-grown ginger crop also requires soil with a high humus content as this contains the right nutrients to ensure quality yield. Mr. Belegorio said the darker the soil, the better; sandy soils that are generally coarse textured, however, he explained, are not suitable as it consequently retains few nutrients and have a low water holding capacity. This also tends to exacerbate the nematode (ringworm) problem that often arises with ginger.
Because a portion of the harvested ginger roots is replanted to produce the next crop, the farmers need to select the best material for this purpose. The challenge, according to Mr. Belegorio, is to cultivate pathogen-free rhizomes. He added that planting an infected seed can contaminate the whole land and can lose the entire crop. To address this, the PIUSFA farmers follow good agricultural practices and sanitation to keep the seed storage areas clean.
They also make sure that all farm tools such as spade, pronged raked, spading fork, and sickle used in one area were sanitized before using them in the next. They sanitize by scrubbing and washing their tools on running water through a hose to remove any mud, debris, and plant residue from the blades and handles. In disinfecting, farmers use household disinfectants in spraying and soaking their farm tools as they are relatively gentle on the hands and tools compared to bleach and industrial cleaners.
Results of ginger farming
Such good technical farming practices give good yield to the farmer group.
In Pandanon, planting ginger takes place around April to May to ensure that the plants have grown well to cope with the extreme heat, rain, and insect infestations.
Mang Makaw and his members start by making furrows in the soil and adding organic matter, such as vermicompost or manure, into them. They place the ginger pieces on top of the compost about a hand’s length apart and cover them with soil.
Every month, they heap soil around the plant to create a soft ridge into which the ginger grows. This ensures that the soil temperature around the ginger stays high enough to encourage growth.
About 8 months after the plant had blossomed, 6 of the first-in-line beneficiaries were able to harvest from January to February 2022, yielding 3,210 kilograms (kg) of ginger. They sold their produce to a vegetable supplier based in Bacolod City at Php 30/kg.
The members reported a combined gross income of Php 93,500 after digging up 3.3 tons of ginger.
From the said revenue, Php 16,500 total expenses from hauling services and Php 7,000 contribution for the association’s roll-ever scheme were deducted. The group then earned a net income of Php 46,500 (Table 1).
Meanwhile, the remaining four members of the 10 first-line beneficiaries are set to harvest their crops this May.
Table 1. PIUSFA’s Ginger Production Harvest and Income (6 members)
|Ginger Rhizomes Planted
|Volume of Total Ginger Harvest
|Volume of Ginger kept for next cropping
|Volume of Ginger sold
|Ubaldo Ceralbo Jr.||3ha||300||2,000||300||1,700||23,500.00||70,000.00||46,500.00|
A member, Ms. Agelia Belegorio shared the positive impacts of ginger production on her life in their rural village.
As a single parent dependent on her vegetable farm, Ms. Belegorio (sister of Mr. Victor Belegorio) said she struggles to support her only daughter since she had no fixed income.
Now that she got to participate in the livelihood project, she is now able to provide for her daughter’s needs. In fact, Ms. Belegorio used some of her income from her ginger harvest to buy a pair of school uniforms for her daughter, a Grade 11 high school student, since face-to-face classes are set to resume in their village.
Another PIUSFA member Mr. Vecente Lareta believes that their town has a winning recipe in the Negros’ fresh produce markets, especially ginger.
“Makakuha kami sang insakto nga presyo kag indi na mag-pangita pa sang mga buyers” (We get a fair price of Php 50-60/kg and we don’t have to go around looking for a buyer), he said.
However, he notes that prices can fluctuate, especially when large quantities of ginger are imported to the neighboring island of Panay.
Despite the many challenges and high costs involved with ginger farming, Mr. Lareta enjoys growing the crop.
“Manami gid magtanum sang luy-a, manami magtanum sang crop nga may maayo nga epekto sa health sang isa ka tawu. Nasadyahan man ako magtanum sang lupa kag ang luy-a ang isa sa tanum nga kinahanglan mo gid gamiton ang imo kamot kag tanan wala ginagamitan sang makinarya,” said Lareta.
(I like being a ginger farmer. It’s wonderful to plant a crop that has a positive effect on people’s health. I also enjoy working with the soil, and ginger is a crop where you use your hands in most of the cultural management employed in the soil because nothing is mechanized.)
With their flourishing ginger farms, the PIUSFA members are looking forward to engaging in enterprising activities. Once their production would further expand, they are planning to produce salabat or powdered ginger tea.
They are also set to plant one ton of ginger rhizomes out of their yield on their respective farms for the next cropping cycle.
Mang Makaw said he will encourage more of his members to produce more ginger so that they could find better market options for their harvest and sustain the demand of the growing local market. ###
Writer: Christ John Gamarcha/DA SAAD 6