Cebu’s outstanding farmers

By Jessa Mae O. Sotto |September 13,2018 - 08:45 PM

Farmer Hercules Ofqueria and his family receive the Organic Farmer Family award from Regional Director Salvador Diputado, (right) of the Department of Agriculture during the agency’s Outstanding Agricultural Achievers Awards in Bayfront Hotel | Junjie Mendoza

AGAINST ALL ODDS

As monstrous winds and heavy rains swept through the Visayas region on November 8, 2013 during Super Typhoon Yolanda, farmer-residents of Northern Cebu were left with nothing.

In the town of Daanbantayan, Susana Arcenal watched helplessly as winds pounded heavily on her farm destroying all the crops that she tirelessly planted to survive.

Arcenal, now 50 years old, said that it was only then when she knew how it felt to have no food on their table after 24 years of farming.

Arcenal recalled that for months, her family had to rely on relief foods given to them by donors as their vegetable farm in Sitio Tinago, Barangay Talisay needed time to recover from the devastation.

“Hurot as in totally damaged among pananom. Hasta among balay naguba pud adtong higayona. Zero gyod mi (Our crops were totally damaged, even our house. We had nothing left at all),” said Arcenal.

But Arcenal refused to lose hope believing that she would, one day, weather the effects of the storm and go back to the only livelihood that she knew — farming.

“Kato nga time kay helpless mi but not hopeless. Naglaom pa gyud mi nga makabangon (At the time, we were helpless but not hopeless. We held on to hopes that we could rise from the tragedy),” said Arcenal whose husband is a fisherman.

Afterall, they had three children who still needed to go to school.

True to her word, Susana found ways to rehabilitate their farm.

Today, not only has Arcenal’s farm recovered, but all their three children managed to finish college as well with degrees in education, accountancy and industrial engineering, respectively.

For her feat, Arcenal bagged the Regional Outstanding Rural Woman Award given by the Department of Agriculture in Central Visayas (DA – 7) and the Regional Agricultural and Fishery Council (RAFC – 7) to farmers with outstanding agricultural achievements.

The Outstanding Agricultural Achievers Awards was held last September 10, Monday in Cebu City.

Arcenal also received a P30 thousand cash prize aside from being elevated to the national finals to compete with five qualifiers from other parts of the country.

“Bisan tuod nga gitan-aw sa mga tawo nga ang mga farmers and fisherfolks maoy pinakaubos nga sector sa katilingban, kon wala pa ang farmers unsa may kaunon sa mga katawhan? Ang mga tawo nagsalig man sa mga farmers (Even though people view farmers and fisherfolk as belonging to the lowest sector of society, without farmers, what will people eat? The people depend on farmers),” said Arcenal who is now also the chairperson of Daanbantayan’s Municipal Agricultural and Fishery Council (MAFC).

“Paningkamotan gyod namo nga ang kinaubsan, maoy pinakalig-on (We will try our best that the lowest sector will be the strongest),” she added.
Aside from Arcenal, the Ofqueria family of Santa Fe, Bantayan Island was also recognized as the Regional Outstanding Organic Farmer Family for 2018.

The Ofquerias also received a P30 thousand cash prize to go with the recognition.

“Wala gyod mi magdahom ani. Nalipay kaayo mi kay nakita nila ang among kahago (We did not expect this. We are very happy that they were able to see our hardwork),” said 53-year-old Carolina Ofqueria, whose family was also a victim of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Ofqueria said that aside from providing food for others, their farm has also produced professionals in the family.

Through sheer determination and hard work along with her husband, Hercules, the Ofqueria’s were able to give all their six children a good
education.

Four of their children have graduated from college, while two are still in school.

“Bisan wala koy grado kay elementary ra ko kutob, naningkamot mi nga makahuman ni sila (Even if I do not have a degree because I stopped studying in elementary, we have worked hard for ourchildren to finish college)” she said.

Ofqueria is proud that her children have not stopped helping out in the farm even though they already earned their college degrees.

Food security

Farmer Susana V. Arcenal smiles as she receives the 2018 Regional Outstanding Rural Woman award | CDN Photo Junjie Mendoza

According to a survey conducted by the DA in 2017, the average age of farmers in the Philippines today is 60 years old.

According to agriculture officials, the trend is worrisome as young generations of Filipinos no longer want to take on farming as an
industry.

To encourage the young to go into farming, the DA is offering scholarships to students who wish to enroll in agriculture-related courses.

DA-7 Regional Executive Director Salvador Diputado pointed to the farmers’ vital role in food security.

“Di ta mabuhi kon wala tay mag uuma (We will not survive without farmers),” Diputado said in a speech during the awards ceremony.
Arcenal, for her part, called on the need to strengthen the agricultural sector.

“Kinahanglan gyod palig-onon ang agriculture para mobarog ang pyramid nga mao siyay gitungtongan sa tanan nga anaa magsalig sa farmers and fisherfolks (We really need to strengthen agriculture so that the pyramid could stand since everyone depends on farmers and fisherfolk), said Arcenal apparently referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a theory in psychology often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most basic, fundamental needs like food placed at the bottom base.

For DA’s Diputado, today’s challenge is to make farming attractive to the younger generation.

“Food production, which is important, has lost its value to the young,” he said.

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