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Rice Farmers in the Philippines Add Vegetables to Their Crop Lineup

Posted On: January 24, 2023
Rice farmers in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, with their vegetables
Rice farmers in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija Province, with their vegetables.

Rice, a staple crop in so much of the world, is usually harvested just once or twice a year, and it can be hard for smallholder rice farmers to meet their families’ needs—not to mention reinvest in their farms—with such a long gap between harvests and the income they bring. Vegetables, in contrast, grow to maturity fairly quickly and can be planted and harvested at different times of the year, bringing farmers a steadier income.

Since 2020, East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Philippines has been working with the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) on projects to help rice farmers diversify their income by adding vegetable production in their fields.

The latest collaboration between EWS-KT and PhilRice was Gulayan sa Palayan at Pagnenegosyo sa RiceBIS Communities (Integrated Vegetable & Rice Production and Business at Rice Business Innovations Systems Communities), a 7-month project in 2022 to teach rice farmers in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija Province, and San Mateo, Isabela Province, how to grow vegetables in a sustainable and profitable way.

Bryan Anoling poses with his new hand tractor

“I was able to generate profit to reinvest. I was able to buy a hand tractor. That is why I am very grateful. Even though it is my first time planting these kinds of vegetables, it turned out to be a success. With this, we were able to provide for the needs of the family, and most of all, I have learned a lot.”
— Bryan Anoling, San Mateo, Isabela

Knowledge Transfer Specialists Cathelyn Patlin, Leslie Gaid, Marites Floresca, and Jessa Quisado shared with us how they initiated this project and introduced vegetable cultivation to rice farmers:

In Isabela Province, Cathelyn and Leslie, together with PhilRice staff and MarDag RiceBIS Agriculture Cooperative officers, began by conducting a courtesy call to local government officials, including the municipal agriculturist. Then Cathelyn and Leslie headed to the field for key farmer selection, interviewing interested farmers in 11 barangays (neighborhoods) in San Mateo. As part of the selection process, they also assessed each farmer’s land to ensure that there was a good place for a demonstration plot, which serves as an example of good vegetable production techniques to other farmers.

In Nueva Ecija Province, Jessa and Marites did the same in Zaragoza, visiting farmers in the barangays of Batitang, Macarse, and Mayamut.

The following week, a project orientation and consultation meeting was simultaneously conducted in Marasat Grande, San Mateo, and in Zaragoza (Batitang, Macarse, and Mayamot). Holding a project orientation ensures that participants understand their role and responsibilities as key farmers, and it is also an opportunity for them to ask questions and provide input into the project.

At the orientation, farmers were briefed about the project and what to expect. A training needs assessment was completed to understand what topics farmers needed to learn, and additional farmers were selected for validation as key farmers. The project called for both theoretical training and practical training in the form of hands-on demonstrations and in-field opportunities for practicing techniques, and the training schedule was shared with the farmers at the meeting.

The beginning of July brought the start of Farmers’ Field School. Topics included an introduction to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), field layout, bed preparation, plastic mulch installation, seed-to-seedling management, trellising, pruning, proper management of insect pests and diseases, harvesting, and post-harvest handling, with participatory demonstrations of all the techniques. Farmers’ Field School ran for 4 months, throughout the crop cycle. A total of 101 farmers (65 men and 36 women) across the two locations graduated from the Farmers’ Field School Training.

Key farmers received intensive in-field training, coaching, and monitoring at their own farms from Knowledge Transfer Specialists, guiding them through designing the field layout, preparing beds, installing plastic sheeting as mulch, and raising strong seedlings. Seed trays, for instance, lead to better germination and growth, since the farmer can more easily control the soil quality and moisture, while seedling houses provide protection for the young plants.

Soon, the key farmers were ready to transplant their seedlings to their carefully prepared demonstration plots.

During regular visits to the demonstration plots, Knowledge Transfer Specialists provided advice on fertilization and pest protection and offered other recommendations based on their observations in the field.

By mid-October, the key farmers in Mayamut, a barangay in Zaragoza, were ready to hold a Technical Field Day to showcase their vegetables and new farming knowledge. At the event on 21 October, key farmers taught the invited participants, who were mostly mango and rice growers, how to diversify their income through vegetable farming.

Farmers in Batitang barangay followed suit less than a week later. More than 60 farmers from neighboring barangays (Santa Cruz, Concepcion, San Isidro, Pantoc, and Pugo) attended the Field Day and were exposed to vegetable production technologies aligned to Good Agricultural Practices.

Farmers’ Field School training on vegetable production ended for the 50 key farmers in San Mateo with a graduation celebration in November, and the 51 key farmers in Zaragoza graduated in December.

By the end of December, as the project came to a close, it had reached its objective of intensively training 100 smallholder rice farmers in vegetable production and had exposed nearly 800 additional smallholder rice farmers to vegetable farming through Technical Field Days and peer-to-peer training events at key farmers’ demonstration fields. Rice farmers in San Mateo and Zaragoza now have the skills and knowledge to diversify their crops and increase their income through vegetables.

The project helped me a lot. Aside from increasing my knowledge, it also increased my income. Nothing is impossible when you know how to work hard and follow the teachings and you are open to receiving new and innovative ideas and are able to adopt new techniques and practices. I would like to thank the agency especially, the PhilRice for providing us with the funding as initial capital to start up our farming, DA-LGU Zaragoza, and the staff of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer for the constant support through a series of training, demonstration, regular monitoring, mentoring, and assistance on linking us to the institutional market, which helped us to sell our produce at the right price.”

— Mario Ignacio (pictured with his wife, Levilita Ignacio), Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija

Farmer Mario Ignacio and his wife, Levilita Ignacio, pack eggplants neatly into crates.