Farming is perhaps one of the most challenging yet fulfilling jobs. We often hear land tillers clamoring about their losses as they suffer devastations caused by calamities and economic crises. But, the story of the Association of Women and Men of Gabawan (AMWG) is different, it is inspiring.
The group, which ventured into squash production in Barangay Gabawan, Daraga, Albay, was able to earn over P70,000 from squash in a single planting calendar.
Squash, with the scientific name "Cucurbita Moschata", is a vine, creeping, and trailing crop-producing fruit. It is one of the most nutritious, delicious and versatile fruit crops in the country. Aside from its rich vitamin A, phosphorus, and calcium, several parts of the squash plant can be profitable to include its flowers that can be mixed with various dishes, and its young and tender shoots for salads.
For the Gabawan farmer's group, it was just like a gamble, they ventured into squash production without sure profit but they tried planting in one and a half hectare community garden, and lo, they harvested recently 31, 000 kilograms of squash fruits.
The association was established on June 16, 2015, composed of 120 members from various sectors to include vendors, farmers, construction workers, tricycle drivers and other community workers. Accredited by the labor department, the group conceptualized the PISO-PISO Savings scheme where members save at least one peso a day. The accumulated savings are utilized for loans and investments.
The association was the first lucky group assisted by the Department of Agrarian Reform - Albay under its Enhanced Partnership against Hunger and Poverty (EPAHP) program - a framework to mitigate hunger, ensure food and nutrition security, and reduce poverty through the convergence of different government agencies to directly benefit family farms, farmer organizations, and marginalized sectors of the country.
Last year, the association was given P300,000 for farm and livelihood assistance. They were also given ready-to-lay chickens and ducks while Landbank of the Philippines and Gubat St. Anthony Cooperative provided not only technical assistance but also access to financial assistance.
"To be a beneficiary of the EPAHP program of DAR was a great opportunity because despite the limited resources we were able to venture on this livelihood. We are also grateful for the support of various agencies," Elena Ll. Arimado, association president, said.
Before venturing into squash production, the AMWG has been producing rice, corn, and other high-value commercial crops but when Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles encouraged farmers to plant more squash to meet the demand for nutri-bun, a component of the government's supplemental feeding program for children, they shifted into squash production.
Unfortunately, the technology adopter of nutri-bun prefers to use carrots rather than squash. To help the farmers, DAR assisted the group in marketing their products in various commercial establishments in the Bicol region to include LCC Supermarket, SM Supermarket, Metro Gaisano Supermarket, Mayon Treats Food Products, and Daraga market.
Some government agencies also patronized the products to include the DSWD's Haven for Women and Children, and Reception and Study Center for Children, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the National Nutrition Council.
“With the marketing assistance of DAR Albay through EPAHP program, the production of squash has been able to sustainably augment our sources of income, despite the pandemic,” Arimado said.
With the abundant production and great sales, Lunie Bronosa, a member, was able to redeem his pawned carabao.
With the potential of the organization, various agencies are now assisting the members to further develop their livelihood. The group is now considering the conversion of the squash plantation into a farm tourism site for a greater income opportunity.
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority trained the members on organic agriculture, the Department of Agriculture provided some post-harvest facilities, the Department of Trade and Industry provided livelihood skills training, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development will provide livelihood assistance to augment their capital seed funds.
The group members, who have been affected by various challenges such as typhoons, dry spells, flooding, pests infestations, and the COVID-19 pandemic, are now elated by the opportunities and support they are reaping from the government.
True enough, like its color, the squash production of the Association of Men and Women of Gabawan is considered a "Golden Harvest" that the farmer-beneficiaries value and treasure. (OTB/PIA5/with reports from Sally Altea of PIA5-Albay)