Manobo’s vast and highly diversified farm employs hundreds of locals and IPs amid pandemic

VPO Farms and Eco Reserve sits in a 500-hectare family land in Barangay Sta. Cruz, Rosario, Agusan del Sur. It is split into two zones: a working farm and a protected area. Outside the preserved marshland and forested area, there's livestock and agroforestry that sustain the farm. 

An aerial photo of VPO Farms and Eco Reserve that is located in Rosario, Agusan del Sur.

VPO stands for Vivencio P. Ocite Jr., who is the patriarch and chairman of a family corporation, VPO Rosario Agro-Industrial Development Company. Ocite, a full-blooded Manobo, oversees the farm, while other family members manage farm operations.

The parcels of land were gradually acquired by the family through the years. Some are still leased from nearby farms, some are ancestral lands of the Manobo tribe that are entrusted to VPO Farms (that is Manobo-owned as well), and other partitions are “part of a sharing agreement between the cooperatives RAM Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-purpose Cooperative (RARBEMCO) and Villa Alma Rubber Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (VARARBEMCO) for the development by the company.”

The farm protects some land areas for its ecological value.

Starting his dream farm

Ocite worked different jobs, some of which were not even related to his degree, before he took delight in his hard-earned success. His aspirations and passion for agriculture stemmed from his upbringing. 

Growing up, his farmer parents tended rice and corn fields for a living. Being raised in such a household allowed him to experience farming, as well as selling tuba or coconut sap at a young age. 

From working as an employee and dealing with failed ventures to successfully establishing a small-scale mining and processing business, Ocite’s hard work and perseverance enabled him to invest in agriculture later in life. 

Vivencio P. Ocite Jr., fondly called VPO, and his wife, Lerio, planting rubber seedlings.

Despite limited resources, Ocite started a livestock farm that consists of a few heads of chicken and pigs in 2012. He carefully studied and responded to the needs of the market that led him to become a major supplier of animal feeds in their area and neighboring provinces. To make sure it was affordable and accessible to the public, he also opened stores in different areas that sold the farm’s products. 

Development and expansion of the family business

Ocite and his family were able to make their farm operations more extensive over time.

The Ocite family in their farm-to-table restaurant called Ko'on that's also located on the farm premises.

The small business that started with a few chickens and hogs eventually became a fully integrated livestock farm in Agusan del Sur that has its own stores where meat products and other farm outputs are directly sold. 

Now, VPO Farms grows rice, corn, cacao, rubber, coconut, coffee, and endemic palm trees like kaong (Arenga pinnata) and sago (Cycas revoluta). It also raises more hogs, chickens, fish like pangasius and tilapia, and a few ruminants such as goats and cows.

The vast land of VPO Farms includes ponds for fishes like tilapia and pangasius.

The crops are primarily produced as a source of feed for the livestock. VPO Farms have post-harvest and feed milling facilities that process this. 

The cacao they harvest from their agroforestry section is turned into chocolate bars, tablea, cocoa powder, and other chocolate products. The family also built a chocolate product line called Lerio Chocolates, named after Ocite’s wife. 

Cacao fruits are grown and turned into value-added goods like chocolate bars, tablea, and cocoa powder.

Rubber, on the other hand, is processed for export. Products like kaong sweetener, kaong vinegar, sago flour, coffee, coco sugar, and coconut wine are also made from the farm’s endemic palm trees and other crops. 

On top of all these, VPO Farms is also an ATI and TESDA-accredited farm school and learning site. Pre-pandemic, the farm offers guest accommodations, too. 

Because of all these elements, the farm directly employs a total of 800 people who are a mix of locals and indigenous peoples. 

Amid the public health concern, the farm’s goal is to ensure the progression of its operations to maintain zero percent retrenchment despite the pandemic’s threats both to the workers and farm animals. 

“More than ever, food security is very important, especially in the middle of a global health crisis. There was never a single day of lockdown within the company operations.” Their farmhands are provided with shuttle services, as well as board and lodging options to ensure the safety of everyone on the farm. 

Farmers of VPO Farms and Eco Reserve holding their fish catch.

VPO Farms continue to reach their objectives, including addressing food insecurity and aiming for a zero-waste and sustainable farming systems. 

The livestock farm partially runs through the use of renewable energy from biogas, which is generated from the organic waste the farm also produces. 

“The waste materials from the livestock farm are processed for it to become methane gas for electricity.” Solid waste from this process is then used to improve the quality of the soil.

One of their techniques is collecting rainwater, which has multiple purposes, such as being used to wash the pig pens and water the crops. Organic waste is also processed and reused as fertilizers. 

Now that Ocite has achieved his agricultural dream, he uses the same dream to be an instrument of hope and inspiration to the community where he’s rooted from. 

Photos courtesy of VPO Farms and Eco Reserve. 

For more information, visit VPO Farms and Eco Reserve.

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