Agriculture flunker gets 2nd chance with Yamang Bukid

Published: July 20, 2019 01:25pm | Puerto Prinsesa


He dreamed of becoming a musician and Daniel John Zabala ended up trying to become an agriculturist.
A native of Palawan, the 26-year old is one of two aspiring agriculturists Yamang Bukid Healthy Products Inc. (YBHPI) is funding to take this year’s licensure examinations. The would-be examinees are in the thick of their review classes at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).

“While being an agriculture in itself is good, it’s still better if you pass the exams and get a license,” Zabala said during an interview at the foot of a tall monument at the UPLB grounds.
His love for farming sprouted when he was still young, although his family was not really into farming. “I just love to grow plants. I love farming,” Zabala said, adding this motivated him to take up agriculture.

After graduating from college at a university in Palawan, Zabala did not take the exam immediately. He went to Manila and worked for a call center company, doing punishing graveyard shifts that took a heavy toll on his health. He only lasted months before deciding to return to Palawan.

He got a job at the city agriculture office in Puerto Princesa, doing special projects in the barangays. While it was somehow a rewarding job, Zabala still yearned to become a licensed agriculturist and improve his career. He therefore decided to take the boards years after he had graduated. “I started my self-review routine but found it quite difficult because I’ve been out of school for a long time already,” said Zabala. Nevertheless, he still took the exams. He failed.

Zabala said he was saddened but undeterred by the results. He continued his job visiting the barangays of Puerto Princesa doing technical works, until he came to Yamang Bukid Farm, an agri-tourism destination at Barangay Bacungan that is becoming popular among locals and visitors. Zabala said he was struck by the uniqueness of the agri-tourism farm because it operates based on novel ideas, like not having an entrance fee for visitors. He also appreciated how the farm cares for its employees, particularly the farmers who were given a chance to turn a new leaf after engaging in illegal logging and other destructive forest activities as means of livelihood.

That’s why Zabala readily accepted an offer of employment extended by the farm management, leaving his government job of a year-and-half. There, Zabala immediately embraced the farm’s culture and made friends with the employees.

“I found working at YB (Yamang Bukid Farm) very fulfilling. i adjusted well with the working environment. They let you learn and improve at the same time,” Zabala said. Apart from getting a compensation well above his previous income, Zabala also got additional bonus when he the farm offered to shoulder his review and board exam expenses.

“I could not contain my happiness. God gave me the second chance to reach my dream of getting a license through Yamang Bukid’s generosity,” Zabala said, vowing to make good his second attempt.

For his second try, the aspiring agriculturist sees to it that he is well-prepared. “I have to read many modules. The board exams is for those who have so much knowledge. You can’t rely on a single module and expect to pass.” Whether he makes it this time might be not yet certain, but Zabala was sure he would stay working with Yamang Bukid Farm after the board exams.

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Ecological agriculture
key to food stability
(Dr. Elderico Tabal, PhD)

  • Imagine how crowded the Philippines could become in 2030. The current population is already more than 107 million and is expected to hit 109 million by the end of 2019 according to the Philippine Population Commission. Food self-sufficiency will surely preoccupy whoever is in government. In contrast with the 20th century, when food was relatively cheaper, the 21st century is expected to see food prices rise as a result of food shortage. Hence, “the world is just one poor harvest away from chaos in the grain markets. Food prices will rise to previously sunimaginable levels. Food riots will multiply, political unrest will spread and governments will fall,” said Lester Russell Brown, founder and president of Earth Policy Institute, based in Washington D.C. In the Philippines, food demand will rise while land areas for low land agriculture will continue to shrink due to human pressure and will further escalate food shortage. Eventually not be able to meet the two of the most important Sustainable Development Goals (SGD 1 & 2) set by the Food and Agriculture or FAO and that is to “end poverty and hunger”.

    Ecosystems in the uplands are very attractive for utilization because of its rich natural resources. However, the unregulated and often indiscriminate activities done to meet food demands in these fragile ecosystems have led to the degradation of the upland habitat. Widespread cutting of forest resources which resulted in the loss of habitats and biodiversity. Charcoal making from wood products have become a lucrative enterprise which pose an alarming concern on forest ecosystems. This practice lives open areas vulnerable for change in land uses. One of these is the practice of slash and burn or “kaingin system” which contributed to further soil degradation and loss of natural soil-biodiversity. Soil erosion is one form of soil degradation and if left unattended it will continue to bring negative effects to lowland communities and in coastal areas. Soil is not only the major natural resource on which human being depends for the production of food but also plays a key role in maintaining the complex terrestrial ecosystems and climate systems of our planet.

    According to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), the recent rapid increase in human population has placed a great strain on the Philippines’ soil resources. The continuing population pressure required the use of more lands to meet food demand, which had resulted in massive deforestation causing undesirable ‘on and off-site’ consequences. The practice of ‘till-plant-and-fertilize’ cropping pattern has caused constant threats to the upland ecosystems. These constraints are expected to escalate as food demand is expected to increase. The solution to the problem of providing enough food in the future now depends on the extent of productivity level of our available lands including those lands which are too steep to till but are currently used for agriculture. However, uplands or steeped land conditions used for agriculture can further induce soil erosion which will lead to soil fertility loss and crop yield decline.

    The Yamang Bukid Farm or YB Farm located in Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa has exemplified the so called “forest-coupled-agriculture”, a system coined by Dr. Baguinod, a retired professor of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB). This is a modified model of ecological agriculture considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO as an outstanding mitigating measure to help address environmental hazards and conservation of the upland ecosystems. This strategic objective within the work of the FAO opens the door more widely to ecological approaches to agriculture. It explicitly recognizes that sustainability is as much a goal as production, and the two must be attained together. Ecosystem services, the multitude of benefits that nature provides to society – underpin agricultural production. Understanding the important functions of these services – from maintaining soil health to natural pest control and pollination – is vital, said Barbara Herren of Sustainable Food Trust based in the US.

    This is why Yamang Bukid Farm is focused on “ecosystem services and biodiversity for food and agriculture” or simply the “forest-coupled-agriculture system” in the uplands in order to ensure healthy farming that promotes healthy soil environments and sustainability of healthy food supply for today and tomorrow for the Filipino people and the world. This is FAO’s ultimate hope on sustainable food production system by protecting soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs and genetically engineered materials.

    (Dr. Elderico Tabal holds a PhD degree of agronomy from the University of the Philippines-Los Banos and is a consultant for Yamang Bukid Farm. Doc Rico also teaches various agronomy and forestry courses at a state university in western Mindanao)
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YB Farm’s Evolution

  • The Yamang Bukid farm in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan was initially intended to be a turmeric plantation, but later it evolved into a place for relaxation for eager tourists and weary travelers, and a habitat to wild, endemic species of animals and insects and flowering plants in the area.

    Baguio City-based Yamang Bukid Healthy Products, Inc. started the farm in Barangay Bacungan Princesa a little over two years ago to produce turmeric. It was an initially 1.2-hectare tract of unproductive land that was supposed to be dedicated to turmeric farm.

    But it has since evolved into a diverse habitat of local fauna and flora, even as it began to be known as a farm-tourism destination, especially after the Tourism Department granted it an accreditation.

    As it burst into a cool idyllic sight, the farm soon caught the attention of everyone – from curious passers-by to wide-eyed tourists and travelers -- as it transformed into an agro-forestry showcase, an ideal place for people, families, and friends to be in commune with nature —free of any charge.

    With this exciting development, the farm's initiators saw another opportunity not only to expand their venture but also broaden the help they are giving back to the community and the environment.
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Bamboo bike stars as farmers, soldiers grow trees in Palawan bike for a cause

  • PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Farmers, soldiers and members of the diplomatic corps shoulder to shoulder together planted hundreds of seedlings of an indigenous tree species at a village here on Saturday in a bid to raise awareness about the protecting the environment.

    Also joining the event for Mother Earth were over 400 bikers from all over Palawan as well as Madel Argosino, a 20-year old development communication junior from University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna who recently had taken part in the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in France, and Thomas Wiersing, European Union charge d’ affaires to the Philippines.

    International triathlete and Yamang Bukid wellness ambassador Madel Argosino poses with a bamboo-made bicycle against the Yamang Bukid Farm-Palawan market in Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City, Oct. 25. The 20-year old Argosino is among the over 400 bikers who rode for the Padyak para sa Kalikasan (Bike for Nature) event by the Cine Europa, Palawan tourism council and the European Union. |Jennifer Milante

    The participants took part in the event dubbed “Padyak sa Kalikasan 2.0 (Bike for Nature)”—a nearly 30-kilometer ride from SM City Puerto Princesa to Yamang Bukid Farm, Palawan’s emerging farm tourism destinations.

    The tree-planting event was a side activity of the 22nd Cine Europa, where over a dozen great European films were being shown at SM City Puerto Princesa cinemas from Oct. 24-26.

    “We did not only plant trees but we and our partners will be growing them,” said Bro. George Maria, Yamang Bukid Farm vice president for community affairs.

    Maria, a former seminarian, said Yamang Bukid Farm—whose 240 employees are mostly former illegal loggers and slash-and-burn farmers—has tied up with schools and the barangay council of Bacungan village in taking care of and monitoring the growth of nearly 500 balayong (Palawan cherry) tree seedlings planted by the roadside at Sitio (Sub-village) Magarwak in the same village.

    (From left to right, first row) International triathlete and Yamang Bukid wellness ambassador Madel Argosino, European Union charge d' affaires Thomas Wiersing and EU information officer to the Philippines Robert Leon stride on their bikes before the start of Padyak para sa Kalikasan event by the Cine Europa, European Union and Palawan tourism council, a 29-kilometer bike event that ended at Yamang Bukid Farm that seeks to raise environmental awareness.|Dianne Datu

    Hosting the pit stop of the bike for nature, according to Maria showed Yamang Bukid Farm’s commitment to help restore and protect Mother Nature.

    “This is also one of our farmers’ humble way of repaying the environment,” Maria said. Aside from contingents from the Naval Forces Western Command (Navforwest) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, participants included cyclists from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Philippine National Police (PNP), Berong Nickel Corp., Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp., Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco) and dozens of private companies and public entities as well as various schools in the island province. Capping the 29-kilometer biking event was international triathlete Argosino, who pedalled the full distance from the shopping mall to the Yamang Bukid Farm marker on a “bambike”, a fully-operational contraption made of bamboo.

    “It was fulfilling especially that I was riding for a cause in support of the farmers and the environment,” said Argosino, also a brand ambassador of health and wellness beverage maker Yamang Bukid Healthy Products Inc. (YBHPI). Yamang Bukid Farm is a sister company.

    She said she was ecstatic and surprised the environmentally-friendly bike was able to perform and endure the ride, particularly the steep and curve climbs approaching the Farm.

    European Union charge d' affaires Thomas Wiersing plants his first Palawan cherry (balayong) seedling in the sidelines of the Padyak para sa Kalikasan (Bike for Nature) at Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City. |Bro. George Maria

    Wiersing, the EU official, lauded the event and noted the farm tourism destination’s natural and sustainable agriculture practices as pro-environment.

    “The (EU) supports all sustainable methods of agriculture that help protect the environment,” Wiersing said.

    Maria said the event, which culminated in a festival-like atmosphere at an open clearing on the edges of the 20-hectare farm where Filipino traditional dances and games were performed and played, respectively, was “an inspiration for us in the management as well as the farmer-employees to continue our sustainable and Earth-friendly farming systems as we do business with a heart.”

    Participants and even casual farm guests partook of the six roasted pigs being prepared and shared in a long “boodle fight.”

    Maria also thanked the provincial, city and village officials as well as Palawan Tourism Council led by Deborah Tan, for choosing Yamang Bukid Farm as partner of the three-day film festival and biking for the cause events.

    (Juan Lim)
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