As gender roles evolve over time, women become more and more active in pursuing interests and careers outside the home.

One particular field, in which women flourish, is the agriculture sector. This is especially evident in the Bicol Region, where the Agricultural and Fishery Councils (AFCs) give rise to many outstanding women leaders.

In this special feature, PCAF highlights how women from different fields of expertise saw agriculture as a viable source of innovation and growth, not only in the professional aspect but also in their personal lives.

From print and broadcast executive to a woman of agriculture

Despite being part of the AFC for only three years, Naga Independent Component City AFC (ICCAFC) Chairperson Maria Emily Galgal already championed some of the best practices related to green health technology in the region. One of these is the use of the black soldier fly for creating organic compost that helps alleviate the rising cost of fertilizers.

The project started with the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute’s Training on Kitchen Waste Composting with Black Soldier Flies in Naga last 2020. 

One of the cooperatives that sustained the use of Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) is the Bikolana’s Agriculture Cooperative.  The group uses it to decompose all kinds of biodegradable wastes such as fruits, vegetables, and manure. 

Similarly, Naga ICCAFC saw a silver lining in overripe or close-to-spoilage fruits and vegetables in the market. Instead of going to waste, some members buy these produce to process into new marketable products such as banana cider and vinaigrette, chili oil, and pickled turnip. This initiative helps farmers avoid losing their investments.

Chairperson Galgal also coordinated with the local government unit (LGU) to establish two stalls in the public market for the harvests of Naga ICCAFC members. On June 28, 2022, the stalls began operating.

To protect their farmers from losing outlays due to crop diseases and possible disasters, the Naga ICCAFC have collaborated with the City Agriculturist Office and assisted farmers in securing insurance from the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC).

“On my part as Naga ICCAFC Chairperson, pag nakikita mo yung mga farmers na kumikita at tumataas ang antas ng pamumuhay, isang malaking fulfillment na. I do not just become a voice, I also try to influence in my own small way,” Galgal said.

From police officer to a woman of agriculture

Daet Municipal AFC (MAFC) Chairperson Eden Zabala is a retired police officer, who wanted to set an example to everyone that even pensioners can profit and enjoy farming.

“After ko magretire as a police officer, na-involve ako sa farming para continuous yung learning ko at makatulong sa mga ka-baranggay ko. Gusto ko din maging example na kahit pensyonado na ako, kaya kong magtanim at kumita pa at the age of 70”, she said.

One of Daet MAFC’s best practices is the conduct of mobile meetings to reach farmers and AFCs in remote barangays and far-flung areas. These are supported by its LGU through the provision of allowances and honoraria.

During the lockdown, Zabala also organized the MAFC to launch their own “mobile palengke” to aid farmers in selling their produce and allow households easy access to food.

As protocols started to ease, the Daet MAFC and the Municipal Agriculturist Office (MAO) again took the initiative to support farmers and expand their market linkages. 

They partnered with the SM Foundation for the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan Project, which provides training and market assistance to farmers. Every Friday, the SM Mall in Daet holds a Farmers’ Bazaar, where farmers can easily sell their crops.

Aside from these, Zabala also initiated voluntary contributions within the MAFC to organize feeding programs and clean-up drives.

From municipal agriculturist to a woman of agriculture

Public service never ends for Sipocot MAFC Chairperson Judith Mangalino.

After retiring from her post as the Municipal Agriculturist, she decided to continue her passion in agriculture by pursuing the MAFC Chairpersonship.

Mangalino shared that her deeply rooted determination to help farmers came from seeing their struggles firsthand.

Nakaka-awa ang mga farmers sa totoo lang. Kaya kahit 60 years old na ako nung mag-retire, nagdecide pa din akong maging MAFC Chairperson para malaman ng farmers na may kasangga at katuwang sila na ‘di sila iiwan”, she said.

One of her initiatives as the MAFC Chairperson is starting a revolving fund for their operational expenses. This was also used to provide cash assistance to AFC members in need during the pandemic.

Sipocot MAFC also takes pride in organizing Agri-Caravans and Farmers’ Week/Day to showcase the contributions and produce of local farmers and agripreneurs. These activities are in collaboration with their LGU and MAO.

Other activities they conduct are the Lakbay Aral, wherein MAFC members visit other regions to learn new technologies and/or best practices, and year-end evaluation to maintain their exemplary performance.

Under her leadership, Sipocot MAFC was also able to sustain the Bull Loan Program of the Philippine Carabao Center and provide bulls to other MAFC members, who are considered the next-in-line recipients of the program.

Ang number one dream ko talaga for farmers ay maging entrepreneurs sila. Hindi lang basta prutas o gulay yung ma-produce at mabenta kung hindi ay maging enterprise yung agricultural venture nila sa pamamagitan ng value-added activities”, she said.

Through the dedication and contributions of these excellent women leaders, the Bicol AFCs continue to cultivate prosperity and innovation in the agriculture and fisheries sector. | JCL