By Zac B. Sarian

Tatang, whom you and all of us know as Mr. Henry Sy, had a soft heart for farmers. Of course, you and I know that he was the country’s richest man whose fortune started in retailing, and then branching to property development, banking, and other business endeavors.

What many people probably don’t know is that Tatang also cared for farmers. The proof is the “Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) Farmers Training Program” that is implemented by the SM Foundation in collaboration with Toto Barcelona’s Harbest Agribusiness Corporation.

The KSK training program was first implemented in 2007 in Bacolod City where more than a hundred farmers participated. The training lasted for three months, but the participants reported only once a week for lectures and hands-on practice in growing vegetables and other high-value crops.

Henry Sy Sr.

Why the training for three months? Well, by the last week, the crops that the trainees had planted would already be ready for harvest. And then that would be a good reason for holding a harvest festival. Tatang was apparently pleased with the initial outcome that he immediately ordered continuing the program, according to Toto.

Barcelona said that todate, more than 20,000 farmers and even non-farmers have been trained on vegetable production. Who are the non-farmers? They include soldiers, 4Ps beneficiaries, Indigenous Peoples, and others. The schedules for the whole of 2019 has been finalized. Currently being held is the training for soldiers in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

How did Toto and Tatang meet? It was in a roundabout way.

Tatang met a professor in agriculture while in China. Tatang wanted to consult him because he was thinking of making Tagaytay Highlands for growing crops that would be supplied to the SM Supermarkets. The professor probably felt that he was not expert enough to evaluate the matter, so he called on Known-You Seed of Taiwan for help. Known-You then called up Toto to do the job.

Toto went to evaluate if Tagaytay Highlands was suitable for commercial crop production. He made his report, an adverse one, and sent it to Tessie Sy-Coson, the daughter. Toto reported that it was not advisable to do farming in the place for two good reasons. First, it would be too expensive to draw water from Laguna Lake for irrigation. Second, Tagaytay Highlands is too expensive a property for farming.

One week later, Toto received a call saying that Tatang would like to meet him. He went there on a Sunday morning and found him watching an NBA game. Tatang, who was in shorts and sando, invited Toto to watch the game, too. And then he asked what can Tatang do to help farmers?

Toto showed him pictures of vegetable trainees at the Harbest facilities. The trainees were doing various chores like seedling production, use of plastic mulch, fertilizing, pruning, controlling pests, and so on. Tatang liked what he saw and told Toto to make a project proposal which he did immediately. One week later, Toto got the go-signal to implement KSK training in Bacolod. And since then, the training has been going on and on up to this day. Now you see, Tatang also had a caring heart for the poor farmers.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2019 issue.