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Food for life

For two days in March last year, with not a wink of sleep, Rowena Mendez Manalo counted ear after ear of corn harvested from her family’s farm in San Ildefonso, priced at P10 each. After 48 hours of backbreaking work, Manalo – a true farmer’s daughter – earned her first P1 million.

“That was the first time I held a million pesos in my life. It was surreal,” she said.

It was a vindication for Manalo and her husband Jun, who rented their first half-hectare farmland two decades ago with a borrowed capital of P5,000, a part of which they also used to buy ampalaya and sitaw seeds.

“Other farmers would laugh at us, because they were already veterans and they owned their land. They would taunt us: what did we know about farming? They did not believe we could make it,” she said.

Jun, she recalled, would console her with a promise that one day, they will have their own farm, including the lands of those who belittled them.

Twenty years later, the Manalos now own seven hectares of farmland on which they grow corn and eggplants. 

“During harvest time, our farm would look like lavender fields with the purple eggplants we produce,” she said.

For 35 years and counting, East-West Seed has changed the lives of thousands of Filipino smallholder farmers who now enjoy higher yield and income.

An hour and a half ride away from San Ildefonso, another smallholder farmer, 55-year old Johnny Gatuz, tills his land in San Rafael together with his wife, Marivic. 

Both former overseas workers, the couple borrowed P50,000 to rent their first hectare of land where they planted kalabasa and okra. 

“Our first five years have not been easy. Sometimes, we would just break even. It was a learning curve for us,” Gatuz said.

Their turning point came in 2015 when they started intercropping and planting tomatoes, ampalaya, and papaya. 

While he still rents his farmlands, Gatuz has since expanded with 4.5 hectares of land now. He was also able to buy a water pump, power spray, grass cutter, and a hand tractor.

“There is future in vegetable farming. You don’t need to go abroad to hit gold. You can achieve that here, by planting vegetables,” Gatuz said.

What is common in the success stories of Manalo and Gatuz is their use of East-West Seed products, which increased their yield and income.

Established in 1982 by Dutch seedman Simon Groot and Filipino seed trader Benito Domingo in a five-hectare lot in Lipa City, East-West Seed combined European technology expertise with Asian tropical farming know-how. 

“You don’t need to go abroad to hit gold,” said former OFW-turned-farmer Johnny Gatuz, 55. “You can achieve that here, by planting vegetables.”

East-West aims to address major challenges in the local vegetable industry, including food and nutrition sustainability and improving smallholder farmers’ income. Currently, the Philippines imports over $3 million worth of vegetables, which if supplied locally could alleviate poverty incidence among farmers who are the second poorest labor force in the country. 

“There is a lot of potential in the Philippine vegetable sector. Annually, the country’s vegetable production is increasing by almost two percent but it is not enough to meet the local demand. That is why we still need to import more than $3 million worth of vegetables, which could easily be supplied by our local farmers,” said Mary Ann Sayoc, East-West Seed general manager.

Manalo and Gatuz have both been nominated for East-West’s “Search For 35 Hero Farmers” across the country.

The contest marks the company’s 35th year in the Philippines, where it has partnered with roughly 5,000 farmers who benefitted not just from East West’s seeds but training courses as well.

For these two hero farmer nominees, East West seeds are more than just seeds to plant – these are seeds of hope for smallholder farmers like them across the country.

“Before, I would only harvest one to two kilos of tomatoes per plant. Now, yield has more than doubled to 6.2 kilos per plant this year,” Gatuz said. “Prior to using East-West seeds, we earned about P25,000 a month. Now, on good months, we earn as much as P800,000.”

Manalo said their income also rose to more than 200 percent when she and her husband started planting East-West seed products. 

“We now earn enough such that my son, who is a seaman, no longer has to leave the country. He now helps us in our farm,” she said.

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Topics: Rowena Mendez Manalo , Johnny Gatuz , East-West Seed , Simon Groot , Benito Domingo , Mary Ann Sayoc
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