By Zac B. Sarian

In pronouncements by government institutions, international agencies, NGOs and other stakeholders, food security, the need for food security, is usually the most emphasized. To achieve food security, what should be emphasized first is Farmer Security. Food security will simply follow.

What do we mean by Farmer Security? The farmer should be equipped with the resources to enable him to undertake profitable farming. How? He should be empowered by having access to the latest techniques of production, access to affordable credit, market linkages, and developing his agribusiness sense.

The major thrust should be to strengthen farm extension programs by the government, complemented by efforts of various private companies that have a stake in agriculture like the suppliers of seeds and various inputs like fertilizers, crop protection products, farm machinery and equipment, logistics providers, and more. The agricultural state colleges and universities should also participate in developing and disseminating doable, science-based technologies. In other words, farm extension service should be a collective effort of both public and private entities.

A few months back, someone was telling us that when Dr. Santiago R. Obien was head of PhilRice, he put up demo farms in rice-producing areas where different varieties, inbred and hybrids, were planted to find out the adaptability of the varieties under specific growing areas. That was considered a very bright idea. Unfortunately, the program was discontinued allegedly for lack of funds. Such programs should be well supported by the Department of Agriculture.

The farmers should be enlightened about the latest technologies that could improve yields, as well as cut the cost of production. One example is the Grafted Ampalaya Technology recently developed by East-West Seed Company. The researchers have come up with a patola rootstock that enables the grafted plant to develop an extensive root system that can take up nutrients from the soil efficiently. As a result, the farmer can save on expensive fertilizers. The stem also develops into a big one that can carry a heavy load of fruits. The grafted ampalaya can remain productive for five months after the first harvest so that as many as 37 harvests can be made before the plant is phased out. On the other hand, the ungrafted ampalaya can usually produce only 15 to 18 harvests in a productive period of just about two months from the first harvest.

Of course, adopting the new technologies entails bigger expense. For instance, grafted ampalaya costs P28 apiece compared to only P10 of the ungrafted. However, the farmer will make much more money from his harvest from the grafted plants because the yield is more than double. It is therefore important that the farmer has access to affordable credit so he can adopt the improved technologies.

There are so many things that the farmers should learn from the extension service. One of them is knowing the pH (percent Hydrogen) in the soil with the use of a pH meter. Why is this important? Well, that can save him a lot of fertilizers. For instance, the ideal pH range for rice according to the Department of Soil Science at UPLB is 6 to 6.5. Now, if the soil pH is 5.0 which is considered very acidic, much of the applied NPK will be wasted. At this said pH, only 53% of applied N (nitrogen), 35% of phosphorus (P) and 52% of potassium (K) are available to the plants. That means 53.67% of the fertilizers applied will be wasted. How to remedy the problem? By applying agricultural lime and that should also be taught, too. In other words, there should be a sustained effort to educate the farmers on so many things that can help them make a profit from farming.

NO YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED – Now that we are retired from our employment, we have come up with a project that can hopefully help neophytes, as well as people who are already doing their own farming. We call it “Sundays with Zac B. Sarian”, a forum from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at our farm in Teresa, Rizal. The first session will be held on June 16, 2019 and it is for free. We will not only share our knowledge and information gathered through the long years that we have been writing about agriculture. We will also touch on the experiences of the attendees, highlighting their successes, as well as mistakes and frustrations, if any.

The attendees will be limited to 20 people per session so it will be manageable. Through our blog,  zacsarian.com , we have invited people to make their reservations. Those that could not be accommodated in the first session could reserve for the succeeding Sundays that they will be available. Just the same, reservation will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

One week after we made the announcement in our blog, 15 have made their reservations. Not one of them is below 30 years old. A lady senior citizen who lives in the penthouse of a condominium in the city would like to attend because she wants to know what she can do in a 3-hectare hilly property in Abra. A lady, 50+ in age, who works for an IT company plans to farm in Silang, Cavite. Then there is a 57-year-old doctor from Ayala Alabang who has recently bought a 1.8-hectare coconut plantation in Batangas. He plans to plant high-value fruit trees under the coconuts. Three public school heads in Makati, 50+ years old, who have properties in Catanduanes, Pangasinan, and in another place will also be attending. There are five former OFWs who have returned and plan to develop their own farms.

Were we disappointed that no young people (below 30) reserved? We expected that but we are very glad that there are professionals and adult non-professionals who are eager to attend. After all, we should encourage not only the young ones but also the adults to go into agriculture. The professionals and other mature persons usually already have their own money to invest in their projects. And they can also generate employment for younger people and maybe even for seniors. They could become role models for the young.