What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next in Agriculture

Published February 1, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Manila Bulletin

This is part of a series of profiles on a new generation of leaders, thinkers, creators, innovators, and trailblazers across many fields in the country. The list is drawn under the theme “What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next” in celebration of Manila Bulletin’s 121st anniversary as an exponent of Philippine progress.


Cherrie Atilano: Agribusiness can be profitable and rewarding

When we talk about farming in the Philippines, most people tend to see it as a laborious job that doesn’t earn well as compared to other professions. But on the contrary, farming is a profitable and honorable job as it is the main reason why there’s food on our tables.

Cherrie Atilano

Cherrie Atilano, the founding farmer, president, and CEO of AGREA, hopes to change that perspective of farming as she believes that there is money in agriculture.

“Where everyone sees dirt in soil, I see gold. That includes building a business with the farmers that is uplifting their lives from poverty, dignifying and respecting them as well as recognizing their contribution to our economy and society in general,” she said.

“I always focus on being relevant and significant, I have been a valuable voice irrelevant of age in the agriculture sector, both nationally and globally. Having that voice representing the unheard, invisible, and unsung heroes, our food producers, is a powerful tool to create changes influencing the decision-makers and on the ground with proof of concept of work I have been doing along the way most especially in AGREA. I must say, I have touched millions of farmers’ lives and non-farmers who are converted advocates to support our farmers along that 22 years in this sector,” Atilano said.

Since she was 12, Atilano dedicated her life to agriculture. Now with 22 years in the industry, there is one thing that she has always believed in. “Feeding people is the most essential business, food is a basic need; and if you like to create impactful changes while venturing into business, agribusiness is the best way to go,” she said.

Her efforts have garnered her recognition worldwide. She is an ambassador of the UN Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, and sits on the Board of Directors pf the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).

The AGREA founder added that going into agribusiness is an exciting venture but not one suited for the faint of heart. Atilano strongly believes that a lot of young people nowadays are courageous enough to look for more meaning in what they want to do.

Atilano established AGREA an innovative inclusive business based in Marinduque that aims to create a living model of a replicable one-island economy with a social mission of cultivation of human beings through livelihood that is indigenous to the land. (Patricia Bianca S. Taculao)


Julius Barcelona: A dignified society for the Filipino farmer

Farmers are among the most marginalized sectors in the country. Their crucial role in feeding the Filipinos is often overlooked and taken advantage of, thus giving a negative connotation to farming that’s being passed on from generation to generation.

Julius Barcelona

This is what Julius Barcelona, executive assistant at the family-run Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, aims to correct. “I want to leave this life having contributed to a society of dignified life for the Filipino farmer,
free from hunger, fear, and social injustice,” Barcelona said.

Barcelona is the son of Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona, a man who has contributed a lot to Philippine agriculture. Inspired by his father’s attitude towards farming, Barcelona also aims to raise awareness of how farming is an honorable job that puts food on our plates.

“We treat agriculture like a welfare service and turn farmers into pity-porn. In doing so, we strip farmers of their dignity, and no one wants to work in a profession that people view as undignified,” he said.

The right way to look at farming, according to Barcelona, is to treat agriculture for what it actually is: “a vibrant and incredible world of new frontiers to explore, problems to discuss, and solutions to create.”

Despite his knowledge and experience in farming, Barcelona admits that he has a long way to go before he can say that he has succeeded in the industry. But as he works with farmers and biostimulants, he finds small achievements worth striving for.

“We had two research trials, one in Ilocos Sur and one in Quezon. The farmer in Ilocos Sur planted eggplants that were devastated by typhoon Ompong, while the farmer in Quezon planted papaya that was blanketed by ashfall from the Taal eruption. Yet to their surprise, the crops that were being treated with our biostimulants actually regrew from what looked like near-death, and they were able to harvest these crops and profit while their fellows were forced to replant,” he shared.

Should these results be replicated into other crops, Barcelona notes that private Filipino farmers will be equipped with disaster resiliency, as the Philippines is prone to calamities such as typhoons, earthquakes, and the occasional volcanic eruptions.

Since the fate of the agriculture industry falls into the hands of the next generation, Barcelona recognizes their potential in creating that society he envisions and to tackle the many issues of agriculture that exist today. (Patricia Bianca S. Taculao)


Reden Costales: ‘Agrillenial’ and the face of the Filipino farmer

Reden Costales is a second generation farmer who has been around agriculture all his life. His parents established Costales Nature Farm in Laguna, the first farm tourism site accredited by the Department of Tourism. He has followed in their footsteps, becoming a farmer and teacher. But in true millennial fashion, he is also a vlogger, with almost 100,000 people subscribed to his YouTube channel, The Agrillenial, which he hopes will help change the hearts and minds of Filipinos towards agriculture.

Reden Costales

“My vision for the Philippine agriculture is simple. All I really want is a change of mindset or perception of the general masses of farming and agriculture in general. Nowadays or even in previous decades, agriculture has a low reputation to the general public,” he said.

“Close your eyes and imagine a farmer. What do you see? Majority of the people who did this answered me with an old person with dark skin, bathing under the sun tilling the land or planting rice, wearing tarnished clothes and his face depicts hardship. The bottom line is it is not an
encouraging sight. This is how Filipinos see farmers and agriculture. This is what I want to change for the future of agriculture.”

The Agrillennial offers viewers glimpses of life on a farm. It also contains how-to videos on the basics of natural farming. Costales loves the YouTube format because it lets him talk about his expertise while also allowing him to interact with his audience. But this, he acknowledges, is not enough without a cultural mindset change.

“Whatever technology we develop, no matter how far we go into the future, if the mindset or the perception or if the people don’t change the way they look at farming, we have gotten nowhere,” he said.

“That being said, my ultimate goal for the future of Philippine agriculture is that if we try once again the activity above, what I want the average Filipino to see is that a farmer looking proud with nice clothes, muddy boots, a pickup truck behind him, overlooking a productive field. This is what a modern and progressive farmer looks like and I wish that this image be shared to others.

“If we really want to see a significant change in the agriculture industry, it has to start with the mind. Change the perception and uplift the image of farmers.” (Yvette Tan)


Rafael Dacones: The man behind Teraoka Farm

Owning a farm and retiring at an early age to grow one’s food is a dream of many Filipinos. But many of the people who aspire to become farm owners are afraid to begin because farming can sometimes be a risky venture, especially for those who have little to no knowledge of the industry.

Rafael Dacones

But for city boy Rafael Dacones, such trivialities are no match for his determination in fulfilling the Filipino dream. He started with only 500 square meters of land and he admitted to having zero knowledge about farming.

Dacones runs Teraoka Family Farm. It is located in Pangasinan and was started by his grandfather in 1992 as a hobby farm. Dacones took over in 2014 after working in Japan for three years.

Like many beginner farmers, Dacones encountered challenges such as learning how to grow produce, run a farm, and find a market for his products. Unfazed, he persevered and soon developed the initial 500 square meters into four hectares of land that grows organic vegetables.

“Seeing how far I’ve gone to how big we are today is my legacy and I hope to keep on inspiring people by showing them you can start small and grow from there,” Dacones said. “I think every growth for me is a success because it represents all the hard work you and your farmers have done despite all the challenges.”

While working in Japan, Dacones noticed how farming is not looked down on in the country. Rather, it was held in high regard since it’s the profession that puts food on everyone’s tables. The same can’t be said in the Philippines, since many people view farming as a poor man’s job that’s unprofitable. Dacones hopes to change the imagery attached to farming and agriculture.

“It’s not an occupation that should be looked down on or exploited. In fact, farmers are one of the most essential people in society—without us, people wouldn’t have anything to eat,” he said.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed. He was the recipient of the Gawad Saka Organic Farmer of the Year award in 2018 and regularly partners with celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants who want to showcase a farmer-forward menu, one that focuses on the ingredients as much as the
techniques that bring them to the table. (Patricia Bianca S. Taculao)

Muneer and Raaina Hinay: Father and daughter start ‘Kids Who Farm’ advocacy

There’s a growing concern that less young people are getting interested in agriculture, to the point that they forget that what we eat at the dinner table started its life in the field or farm. A father and daughter from Zamboanga City hope to change this.

Raiina and Muneer Hinay

Muneer Hinay and his 10-year-old daughter Raaina founded Kids Who Farm (KWF), an advocacy that combines education and food production.

It all started when Raaina, then nine, approached her father about wanting to save her school garden, which was about to be used as space for a new building. Muneer, who is the project manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Sustainable Food Systems Program and thus has extensive background in social work, thought it would be a good idea for Raaina to
write the school about her intention, but sign it under an organization’s name instead of her name. That was how Kids Who Farm began.

“Kids Who Farm is a Zamboanga City-based initiative that aims to educate the youth on the importance of food and farming,” Raaina says in an introductory video. “Our social mission is to empower the youth as the next generation of future farmers by making farming fun and easy to learn.”

Many people believe that farming is difficult, and part of KWF’s goal is to change this perception. Raaina herself leads demonstrations to show kids firsthand that growing your own food isn’t intimidating, and can in fact be fun activity. Having a kid explain the basics of hydroponics then proceed to demonstrate how to make a self-watering planter goes a long way in
easing the fears of a budding urban farmer.

Its members, all volunteers, have given workshops on urban gardening to schools and organizations all over Mindanao. They are also involved in helping set up communal gardens in marginalized communities to encourage self-sufficiency.

Recent projects include collaborating with the Zamboanga City Medical Center to set up an urban garden for access to locally grown crops and to manage biowaste, and help the Association of Tulungatung Innovative Women Agripreneurs, also based in Zamboanga City, set up a communal garden.

KWF believe that small actions performed by many can lead to big change, something the individuals and communities that they have worked with can attest to. Oh, and the school garden Raaina wanted to save? It’s still there. (Yvette Tan)

Louise Mabulo: Award-winning chef and advocate hopes to put an end to stereotypes in agriculture

When we hear the term “farmer,” one of the things, if not the first, that comes to mind is a picture of exhausted farm workers toiling under the sun. To begin laying the groundwork for the future of Philippine agriculture, this stereotype needs to end— and in its place an image of prosperity and quality of proudly Philippine-grown harvests, to restore the dignity of our farmers, said Louise Mabulo, a chef, farmer, UN Youth Ambassador, and the founder of the Cacao Project, an initiative that provides farmers with cacao plant seedlings and teaches them to produce cacao responsibly and sustainably.

Louise Mabulo

Farmers have been boxed in by these stereotypes and issues related to poverty, which, sometimes, reinforce the barriers to their progress in agriculture.

According to Mabulo, agriculture must be recognized for what it is; “An essential pillar for human survival, an alchemy between mankind, the soil, air, and water, that creates our bountiful harvests, and maybe even an art form that requires science and mastery to achieve consistently, much like how we view the manicured vineyards in wine countries.”

At work, she demonstrates how Filipino farmers carry off their work and how we can introduce the Philippine agriculture into something more sustainable, regenerative, and beneficial to us and to the world. Mabulo believes that agriculture can be at the forefront of development and recovery for our economy, to empower our farmers and farming communities and at the same time, provide resources for them to function.

When asked how she envisions the future of Philippine agriculture, Mabulo answered: “The future of Philippine agriculture will be synonymous with environmental stewardship, with community development, and with rich, quality produce

“Our farmers will be given the respect and recognition that they deserve, and our communities will be homes of economic forests— prosperous in both harvests and self-sustaining,” she added.

Mabulo aims to dedicate herself to supporting and enabling environmental stewards, agripreneurs, small communities, and the next generation in recognizing their potential to cultivate and restore landscapes in the country.

After witnessing how the world can significantly change in just two decades, Mabulo hopes to create a world that’s greener, stronger, and food-secure. (Vina Medenilla)

Carlo Sumaoang: ‘Seed the difference’

Growing up in a farming family doesn’t necessarily mean that one’s love for agriculture will come naturally. In Carlo Sumaoang’s case, his appreciation for the land was roundabout. He wasn’t appreciative of agriculture at first, at least until he realized that by mixing his love for design and marketing with growing things, he learned to love farming and now wants others to appreciate it, too.

Carlo Sumaoang

Aside from heading the family agribusiness, Sumaoang also manages his venture, MNL Growkits, a brand of easy do-it-yourself planting kits aimed at folks who want to try their hand at gardening but find the process intimidating.

MNL Growkits’ battle cry is to change the mindset of urbanites, especially young ones, about the stereotypes that revolve around agriculture. As their mantra goes— seed the difference. “Because the moment of tremendous growth happens simultaneously when we start changing our mindsets and we start seeding our differences,” Sumaoang said.

As a young leader in the agricultural sector, Sumaoang intends to establish a connection between people and agriculture. He also hopes to aid others in finding their way back to farming and nature.

For him, agriculture is “an industry where collaboration is a norm; technology an knowledge [are] abundantly shared freely and wholeheartedly.” In the future, he pictures an agriculture industry that is championed by old and young farmers with support from other individuals from other fields such as doctors, artists, and chefs. (Vina Medenilla)


Dwight Tamayo: Farmer and vlogger encourages by example

Masbate native Albert Dwight Tamayo is a poultry farmer and a social media influencer whose videos of what life is like in a chicken farm has inspired many to try their hand at the business.

Dwight Tamayo

Tamayo decided to go into poultry farming after becoming a registered nurse and realizing that there was a glut in the market. Noticing a lack of egg suppliers in the province, he set up A.D. Tamayo Poultry Farm in 2011 at the age of 22, supplying eggs and layer hens to clients.

He was already a successful poultry farmer when his then girlfriend, now wife, Christine May convinced him to try vlogging. At first, Tamayo didn’t know what he should vlog about, but he was told that he should vlog about what he knew best: poultry farming.

The Dwight Tamayo YouTube channel currently has 70,000 subscribers. Viewers are given access to different aspects of running a poultry farm, both good and challenging. Tamayo also talks about his journey as a vlogger, even recording the first time he collected his check from
YouTube. Aside from inspiring his viewers, the channel has opened opportunities for Tamayo himself.

He’s been able to expand his business to consultancy services and poultry farm setup, which he also chronicles on his vlog. His viewers appreciate his transparency and easy-to-understand explanations that make them see that they, too, can go into the poultry business.

Last year, the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) launched the Agricultural and Fishery Youthpreneur Council (AFYC) with Tamayo as one of its founding members. Tamayo is an example of how strategic use of social media can help dispel the myths and misconceptions many people have about farming. (Yvette Tan)

Charlene Tan: Changing the world with food

Are you ready to change the world with food? This is what Good Food Community (GFC) asks. GFC is an organization that links smallholder farmers directly to consumers.

Charlene Tan

Founded by Charlene Tan, it uses the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) model, whereby farmers are supported by customers who buy their produce on a subscription basis. In return, they get a pack of produce a week depending on their subscription type, what’s in season, and the amount of harvest.

This allows for a certain sense of security on both sides: the farmers don’t have to worry about selling their produce, and the buyers are assured that the fruits and vegetables they receive are naturally farmed.

The CSA model encourages sustainability. Waste is lessened because the harvests have buyers, and importance is placed on seasonality and locality. But it’s more than just supporting farmers and being kind to the environment. Putting a premium on natural farming and on what’s in
season and most suitable to the local climate results in produce that tastes the way they should taste: delicious, flavorful, reflecting the land it was grown on.

Tan believes that no person or action is too small in the fight for food security. “I envision an agriculture industry that puts the health needs of its people first, that measures its gains in sustainable livelihoods and regenerated ecosystems. I hope and labor towards local food ecosystems where the power and resilience to nourish ourselves lay in community-based governance, bayanihan, dignity, and healthy domestic trade,” she said. (Yvette Tan)

Juana Manahan Yupangco: Advocate for local produce and farmers

Many farmers and agriculture advocates hope for a time when the Philippines can call itself food secure, when the Filipino farmer is held inhigh regard, and with local fruits and vegetables in demand in the
global market.

Juana Manahan Yupangco

A person who shares these goals is Juana Yupangco, a cookbook author and the woman behind Mesa ni Misis, a blog that promotes healthy plant-based recipes using locally-sourced products and produce.

“My vision for Philippine agriculture is for our farmers to be successful; for them to be able to plant crops that people enjoy, [and] for us to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on crops from other countries and other places to nourish our fellow Filipinos,” said Juana.

Through Mesa ni Misis, she uses her voice and platform to create dishes that highlight local fruits and veggies and to support the Filipino farmers who produce them. She encourages others to try different local ingredients by using them as substitutes for non-native produce in international dishes.

The recipes published on the Mesa ni Misis blog are delicious, easy to follow, and have ingredients that are easy to find and are reasonably priced. She’s collaborated on many projects including feeding programs for health workers, senior citizens, and other communities that are in need of help.

Mesa ni Misis also helped distribute 700 nutritious plant-based meals to locally stranded individuals (LSI) around Libingan ng mga Bayani during the pandemic. Through its programs and initiatives, over 2,000 farmers were supported and over 19,000 food packs were delivered to different communities.

Juana recently released a cookbook titled Mesa ni Misis Cookbook: A Guide to Cooking & Enjoying Native Filipino Vegetables, which contains 40 plant-based recipes that champion local veggies.

“Can you imagine what that will do for our economy and our farmers? If for example, alugbati became as
famous as kale. That is my dream for the local agriculture industry – to have our local fruits and vegetables recognized, but more importantly, for us to love them and to be self-sufficient,” she added.

She hopes to be remembered as a person who contributed to putting local produce on the map. Juana plans to continue making dishes that will not only represent homegrown ingredients, but more importantly, will also recognize the Philippine farmers for the work that they do. (Vina Medenilla)