As faith would have it, a son of Benguet returned to his roots of being a farmer after having the opportunity of finishing his studies, having a 9-to-5 job, and even becoming an overseas Filipino worker (OFW).
Johnny Butangen, a member of the Green Prosperity Credit Cooperative (GPCC) based in Barangay Cattubo, Atok, Benguet decided to continue and expand the operation of his parents-in-law’s farm as a way to support his family.
After graduating in college with a course in computer science, Butangen, who found a job as an office worker in a credit cooperative serving local farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet, decided to become an OFW for so many years as a way to further support his growing family.
After finishing his contract as an OFW and with his accumulated earnings, Johnny then decided to go back to Atok and invest his earnings in different equipment and facilities needed in operating the 1,700 square meter farming area of his parents-in-law while considering a career in becoming a full-time farmer.
“My course in college as a computer science graduate had no relation to my work as a credit loan officer, as well as being a spray painter in a shipyard in South Korea for more than four years. My being a former credit loan officer with farmers as our client and having a direct experience in farming by helping my parents paved the way for me to return home and encouraged me to invest my earnings in agriculture, and to become a full-time farmer in our farm to continue its production,” Butangen explained.
After deciding on becoming a full-time farmer, Johnny attended various trainings and seminars provided by the Department of Agriculture Cordillera (DA-CAR) through the High Value Crops Development Corporation (HVCDP), and the provincial government of Benguet which included good farming practices and Good Agricultural Practices that guided him in the management and operation of his initial investment of a greenhouse.
Widening his knowledge in agriculture, he attended the training on potato cutting propagation given by DA-CAR’s HVCDP, followed by a second training on strawberry production wherein HVCDP provided seedlings as an intervention.
“Being a strawberry producer and with the number of tourists visiting Atok which is currently introducing agri-tourism, I was encouraged to propagate my production of strawberries by inquiring on what possible interventions the DA can provide. This resulted in HVCDP identifying me as one of the beneficiaries of our FCA for UV sheets for my existing greenhouse, seeds, a hand tractor, water drums, and hose for water impounding purposes,” Johnny said.
The High Value Crops Development Program or HVCDP is one of the banner programs of the Department of Agriculture mandated to contribute for attainment of food self-sufficiency, economic growth and enhancement of consumer’s health and welfare.
Butangen’s farming area was initially located in an open field which was exposed to rains and the early fog that affected almost 40 to 50 percent of his strawberries due to rain water and water produced by the fog that stays on strawberries shortening their shelf life. The UV plastic sheets use to cover the green house served as an intervention that controls the environment while producing strawberries.
Looking at the positive effects of being a Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) certified farmer, Johnny and two other farmers in Atok were the first farmers identified as GAP certified in 2020. At present, there are now 17 GAP certified farmers of the Atok GAP Practitioners Association (AGPA), with 13 more members to undergo inspection prior to becoming GAP certified. The practitioners are currently in the process of establishing their market linkages with focus currently on the local market.
GAPs are voluntary guidelines for produce farmers to reduce the risk of microbial contamination related to food borne illnesses on their farms. The guidelines are based on the Food and Drug Administration Guide to Minimizing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Produce.
Green Prosperity Credit Cooperative or GPCC’s membership are all registered under the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture or RSBSA. The registry system aims to be the reliable source of data information to be used as basis/reference in the implementation of various programs as well as the formulation and evaluation of policies of DA. It is a database of all farmers and fisherfolks in the country where interventions are channeled and to avoid duplication of agriculture inputs provided.
With the interventions provided by HVCDP to Butangen, his production of strawberries has increased by at least 40 percent, paving the way for him to become a supplier of one of Baguio City’s popular restaurant, aside from also becoming a supplier of lettuce where he plans to expand production.
“As for strawberry, I was able to meet with the owner of Vizcos restaurant in Baguio City, I have been dealing with him for almost one year wherein all my production of strawberries delivered to him, for lettuce, I was able to meet one consolidator of romaine where I supply romaine lettuce. We are trying to program on producing 1,000 kilos within two months with 500 kilos to be produced every 15 days with the use of the greenhouse which we see is achievable,” Butangen stated.
Aside from being a beneficiary of HVCDP and a GAP certified farmer, Johnny is also one of the identified farmer cooperator of the DA-CAR-Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) MV2C technical cooperation Pilot project 1-B or the “Dispersion of Vegetable Production and Shipment Timing by Optimizing of Greenhouse Cultivation”.
This project provides technical support that will enhance the knowledge and skills of farmers to adapt to new ways of producing high value crops such as tomato and lettuce. Six cropping patterns are being tried under a greenhouse to determine the appropriate crop combination that would optimize the use of the greenhouse.
Being one of the identified farmers, Johnny continuous to encourage his fellow farmers to become GAP certified, aside from being registered under the RSBSA, and to acquire other services provided by the agriculture department that would help in improving production.
“The interventions provided by DA-CAR’s HVCDP has helped me a lot in establishing myself as a full pledged farmer primarily through the training and seminars with support from the Provincial and Municipal government. The interventions has help me in reducing the need for additional personnel and equipment in managing and operating my farm and hopefully, other farmers in Atok would also be beneficiaries,” the GAP farmer added.