AGNO, Philippines – In a small rural town in Western Pangasinan, an agriculturist and public high school teacher helps feed more than 50 students and their families.
Abelardo Ferrer heads the agricultural arm of Agno National High School (ANHS). He has been a licensed agriculturist since 2009.
A small portion in the back of the huge school compound houses Ferrer’s pride and joy, the “Gulayan sa Paaralan (School Vegetation Lot).”
“Kantahin mo iyong Bahay Kubo, nandito lahat (Sing the Bahay Kubo, we have them all here),” he proudly said of the small school garden he helps maintain together with 64 students under the Technological and Livelihood Education (TLE) program in the old curriculum set by the Department of Education (DepEd).
Under the K to 12 program, the Agri-fishery Arts is included in the technological proficiency under the Technological and Livelihood Education Curriculum Framework. It aims to “integrate entrepreneurship with all the areas” of the program.
For the students
Agno is a third class municipality in Region 1 with approximately 27,000 residents. They make use of the 16,975 hectares for agriculture, specifically rice planting, which is their main source of income.
All of the vegetables harvested from the humble plot are given to the students for them to bring home. Among them is ampalaya. (READ: School feeding programs for Filipino kids)
“Bale non-saleable iyon (They’re actually non-saleable),” Ferrer told Rappler. “Hindi namin binebenta kasi pinapakain sa mga bata iyon (We don’t sell them because we give them to the children),” he added.
Ferrer said this is how he makes sure his students don’t go to school hungry. In 2013, DepEd’s figures show that 534,054 schoolchildren are too thin for their age. (READ: Learning on an empty stomach)
The downside, he stressed, is that they are able to do this only during the school year. They start in June and end in April. By summer, weeds overtake the plots because of lack of maintenance.
“Kapag walang estudyante, walang mag-aalaga at hindi ko naman kaya gawin lahat,” said the teacher. (If there are no students, there would be no one to tend the garden since I can’t do it all on my own.)
He also believes that more families can benefit from the garden if the production goes beyond 10 months.
“Continuous talaga sana kasi wala namang buwan ang pananim na gulay (It will be continuous since vegetables can be planted any month),” he said. “Depende lang sa mga materials niyo at maibigay lang ang lahat (It all depends if the materials needed are given),” he added.
The problem lies in the budget as funding is not automatic.
“Hindi pa kaya ng gobyerno kaya by request lang talaga,” he lamented. (The government cannot really provide all the time so everything is done by request only.)
Ferrer recalled how he usually had to go to the provincial field office of the DepEd to ask for assistance, only to be given a few seedlings since resources are really limited. His requests usually take more than a month to be answered, sometimes even longer.
He often shells out money from his own pocket. Hard times like this make Ferrer thankful for parents who support the project and who contribute small amounts that make a difference.
“Malaking tulong iyong mga magulang na nagbibigay talaga kahit kaunti,” he said. (Parents who give even a small amount are a big help.)
DepEd was given a budget of P 335.4 billion in 2014, the “biggest budget allocation” in history.
According to Ferrer, the garden follows Republic Act 10068, or the Agriculture Act of 2010, which aims to “promote and help implement the practice of organic agriculture in the country.” (READ: Davao City goes green, supports organic farming)
“Ang talagang tinutukan namin ay ang paggamit ng organic. Walang synthetic fertilizer dito,” he explained. (We really focus on using organic materials. We don’t use synthetic fertilizer.)
In 2011, Ferrer organized seminars aiming to orient TLE coordinators stationed in the province, both national and barangay high schools, about organic farming. Out of 139 schools, 126 attended. The Department of Agriculture (DA) gave assistance that time.
During the first seminar, they gave a small amount of fertilizer and vegetable seedlings, according to Ferrer. But to improve organic farming, facilities should be improved too.
“If there are seedlings but no proper equipment, it’s still no use,” he said in Filipino. This is why he is trying to raise money for the construction of a new well for the garden. The previous wells they used were closed to make way for new school buildings.
The once bare area in the high school is now a source of food for students and their families – even people who lived nearby – thanks to Ferrer’s vision.
He does not earn from the vegetables he plants but he is pleased with the certificates he earned from his efforts. He also chose to be a public school teacher than take a municipal position with a more hefty salary.
He’s happy doing his job to increase awareness about the importance and impact of agriculture on the youth and on communities. – Rappler.com