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Beyond Rice: Nanay Nene’s Story

Posted On: June 5, 2024
Emelita Baligat stands next to a cart filled with crates of vegetables.
Emelita “Nanay Nene” Baligat with vegetables to sell.

NUEVA ECIJA, PHILIPPINES – “Our lives revolve around borrowing money, that is the truth,” said Emelita Baligat. “If you can’t be wise and resourceful, you’ll end up losing your sanity.”

Emelita, who goes by Nanay Nene, has been farming in Brgy. Batitang, Zaragoza, for nearly 30 years. Before she took part in a crop diversification project with East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer, she grew only rice. “The most difficult part of farming is the very unpredictable weather,” she said. “I may be able to grow and take care of my plants consistently, but once disaster strikes, like typhoons, we’ll end up borrowing money to start all over again.”

Because field crops like rice take a long time to mature, a weather event can destroy half a farmer’s livelihood in one stroke. Co-funded by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the Gulayan sa Palayan at Pagnenegosyo sa RiceBIS Communities project promoted crop diversification by training farmers in vegetable production, following Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Growing a variety of vegetables alongside rice can provide a steadier stream of income and mitigate damage from natural disasters and climate change.

Applying Modern Technologies

Farmer Emelita Baligat stands next to a tall row of crops.
Nanay Nene at her farm.

Nanay Nene eagerly participated in the season-long training and monitoring conducted by EWS-KT. One technology that she found particularly helpful was plastic mulch. With the mulch, she didn’t need to spend her income hiring laborers to uproot the weeds around the crops, because the plastic prevented weeds from growing. In addition, she discovered a lower incidence of insect pests in the field, as the reflective property of the plastic drove them away.

The project also included specific training in integrated pest management, which covers a variety of preventive and treatment approaches to minimize crop damage from pests and diseases. With the knowledge to make an informed decision, Nanay Nene chooses to use bio-organic pesticides in her fields. “I strongly believe that vegetables are meant to lengthen one’s life,” she said, “but if we continue to patronize these chemicals available in the market, the result will be the opposite.”

Vegetables for Education

For Nanay Nene, the greatest investment she was able to make after becoming involved in the project was toward the education of her six children. A high school graduate, she is doing all she can to help her children complete their education, with university as her goal. “It did really help us sustain our children’s education,” she said. “Out of my six children, my firstborn is now in college.”

Nanay Nene currently serves as treasurer for the Batitang Agriculture Cooperative, and she has some advice to share. “Let us start applying the modern technologies we have in agriculture, because we are already in the modern generation,” she said. “If we keep holding on to our old beliefs, we’ll get totally left behind.”

Learning modern techniques from EWS-KT has introduced Nanay Nene to a more sustainable and profitable way to farm. For her, the benefits are clear—lower maintenance costs, higher yields, and greater economic stability, along with the ability to support her children’s education.  

For more on our work in the Philippines, visit our Philippines page.