By Karl Louise M. Salibio

Gregorio B. Saljay III of Pigcawayan, Cotobato is the general manager and co-owner of GBS III Agrofarms. It is a 4.9 hectare (ha) coconut-based farm, intercropped with fruits and orchards.

His dream of being a farmer was inspired and nurtured by his grandfather, who established a coconut farm in the early 1980s. Because of that dream, Saljay studied Agriculture and graduated from the Central Mindanao University, having majored in animal husbandry. Since he was the only agriculture graduate in the family, his parents gave him the responsibility of managing their farm. Saljay took it as a challenge and slowly converted their practices to natural and organic farming.

“My Lolo (grandfather) is from Negros. He went to Cotabato with only R20 in his pocket. He was not certain about anything but farming. He was a dreamer, just like me. He once told me that if you plant 10 trees everyday, in the future, you will also be harvesting daily. For what I have become, I owe it to him,” says Saljay.

Saljay practices diversified farming. This technique allows him to take advantage of the maximum potential of his small farming area.

Learning and application: Applying what he has learned from the university, he deviates from conventional practices and concentrates on natural farm management. He is slowly converting it into an organic farm, with the belief that going back to the basics of natural farming will help eliminate its harmful effects on people and the environment. Saljay is also pioneering a small ruminant project with goats and sheep for dairy and meat. He allows the goats to feed on unwanted weeds in the farm. He uses natural dewormer, and goat urine as insect repellant for the ruminants. Effective micro-organisms also serve as foliar fertilizer for his fruit trees.

Saljay is also working to improve the existing coconut trees and orchard composed of durian, mango, and lanzones trees, which were planted by his grandfather, and is adding other fruit trees. He is also growing vegetables as well as dragonfruit on his farm. He works to ensure the availability of irrigation and the application of organic fertilizers to the trees. Later on, he added vermiculture, together with goat manure, to sustain the supply of organic inputs in the farm.

Taking advantage of opportunities: His commitment to lifelong learning inspired him to open his farm to agricultural researchers and innovations from the academe, non-government organizations, and government agencies. Saljay also links with agricultural institutions for new technologies in organic farming, and applies these technologies to his farm. It paves the way for him to begin more value-adding activities with the integration of his livestock with the various high value crops, including the dragon fruit project.

Opportunities continue to grow with the assistance of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) regarding capability development and training on organic agriculture. As a learning site and a School for Practical Agriculture accredited by ATI, Saljay was able to establish a small dormitory and further improve his organic edible landscaping project. It also adds income to the farm since most training activities of ATI on organic agriculture are held there.

A portrait of Saljay’s beloved grandparents greets visitors at the entrance to his farm.

“ATI’s intervention gives high morale to farmers like me. We also learn so much through the field exposures. What keeps motivating me to develop my farm is the inspiration and challenge of ATI,” he says.

Living an advocacy: After being helped by the ATI, Saljay decided to share his technologies with his community. He mentions that it is already part of his responsibility to influence people to go into organic farming, not only by providing them with knowledge, but also by setting a positive example and changing their attitude towards organic agriculture.

He regularly helps young farmers and out-of-school youth by providing free training sessions on deworming and the use of natural vitamins for animals. Planting materials from his farm are also being distributed for free from time to time to help assist members of his community in starting their own organic backyard gardens. Saljay says that this assistance to others is his advocacy, and it feels good when he can help change trainees’ attitudes and add to their technical knowledge.

Thank you, Lolo: His grandfather was the main player in building Saljay’s career as a farmer, being his original inspiration. He also credits the constant motivation coming from his parents. “My Lolo started small. With [his] R20…I know it was not enough. But he was persistent, kindhearted, and full of passion. He loved helping people. It inspired me to help people, too. It has since then been my advocacy. Like I said, there was never a success without my Lolo.”

Saljay, whose farm started from a R20 bill from his Lolo’s pocket, now supplies fruits, coconuts, organic fertilizers, goat meat, and organic vegetables to most of the leading establishments in Cotabato. He also plans to expand and elevate his farm into a farm tourism site so that those who are interested in agriculture and people from all walks of life can visit and enjoy it.

Truly, it is not the farm that makes the farmer; it is the love, passion, and character of a person. Even better if one has a Lolo like Saljay’s.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May 2018 issue.