By Sahlie P. Lacson

Twenty-nine years after Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, the municipality of Bacolor in the province of Pampanga managed to rise up successfully – now with various establishments, and a farm tourism site included, proudly regaining its maiden form.

Brief backgrounder on Mt. Pinatubo eruption

It was in the afternoon of June 15, 1991 when Mt. Pinatubo woke after a 500-year slumber. Ash, rock, and other volcanic materials were ejected some 34 kilometers into the sky. Geologists say it was one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in the past century. It destroyed or damaged houses, farmlands, and infrastructures, and claimed the lives of dozens of people and displaced hundreds of thousands of families.

One of the municipalities worst hit by the eruption was Bacolor. This was because various engineering interventions diverted the lahar flow to Bacolor, making it the sacrificial town to lessen disaster impact on the whole of Pampanga and nearby provinces. All of Bacolor was buried under six meters of lahar, especially the downtown areas. Proof of these are the now-buried Bamban Bridge on the North Luzon Expressway and the San Guillermo Parish Church, a structure originally built and rebuilt in 1576 and 1886, respectively, but is now literally half of its previous glory. The church’s bottom half is buried under lahar; the church administration later converted the second-storey windows into doorways as access among the town’s faithful.

“We thought the morning after the eruption, it was all over. Then, we realized it was only just the beginning because of the lahar that came every year,” says local historian Robert Tantingco, director of the Kapampangan Studies in Holy Angel University, in one of his interviews at the time.

Continuous earthquakes because of the falling rocks, as well as collapsing rocks from the crater and from the rim of the volcano frightened most of the residents; add to this the fear of a nuclear explosion from the nearby US Clark Airbase. There were also unfounded rumors that Pinatubo was spewing so much material that it was emptying the underground and that the whole province would collapse. Another story said that there was a fissure or a crack on the slope of the mountain that would cause a massive landslide that will bury the province – all these caused the people to flee and relocate elsewhere, others even permanently.

The birth of Diaspora Farm Resort 

After listening to a priest’s homily about diaspora during mass, Annette Patdu picked up the word and named it for their family’s farm. Diaspora, which means the dispersion of any people from their original homeland, inspired her to rebuild what was once his father’s one-hectare farm planted to rice and other crops before Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption happened.

Mangoes remain the farm’s main product which introduced Diaspora Farm in the market. They grow mango varieties like Carabao, Golden Queen, Kinabayo, and Chokanan.

Patdu’s family was one of those who fled Bacolor and relocated to Manila after the disaster. However, after 15 years, she decided to return to their native hometown and continue what her father, who unfortunately died in 2003, had started.

With the help of her husband, Agie, the couple started to redevelop the property, which according to them, was starting everything from scratch. They sought all the help they could get in order to clear the lot and had the soil tested to determine its suitability for planting crops before they could actually start with a project. Luckily, experts say that volcanic soil is good and very fertile. They then bought the adjacent lots totaling to 2.5 hectares, which at that time were low-valued, as owners did not have any interest to return home and do something to make the land productive again.

The couple did preliminary interventions and soil conditioning to ensure that plants would thrive. They added a lot of manure to the lahar. They spread rice hulls and other waste materials, spraying them with molasses to encourage the proliferation of beneficial microorganisms. All these are products of Annette’s knowledge, patience, and determination after attending several training and seminars to educate herself about farming, since, prior to establishing the farm, the former Industrial Engineer had long given up her job in a big construction company in Manila and had confined herself at the comforts of their home to devote her time attending to her five children. Since returning to Bacolor, she opted to farm full time, while Agie plays his role as a “weekend farmer” and goes to the farm, together with her children who continue to study and work in Manila, on weekends.

Diaspora then bought planting materials through weekend markets in Magallanes and Parañaque and started planting mangoes intercropped with other fruit trees such as guyabano, duhat, and papaya. Slowly, they also integrated different farm animals like carabaos, cattle, goats, sheep, chicken, geese, turkey, and native pigs.

Everything went well. A few years after initial planting, Diaspora harvested the fruits of their hard work. Avoiding middlemen in selling their produce, Annette, whose farm’s primary produce is mango, joined trade fairs and mango festivals, which for most of the time, were free and were organized by local government units or agencies. Here, she personally met buyers, engaged with them, and marketed their farm’s produce. She was also able to get firsthand consumer insights from the market and eventually made a name for her brand.

“Filipino farmers should think and act like businessmen,” says Annette. She said that one of the reasons why farmers in the Philippines remain in poverty is that they are focused only on productivity. “While productivity is important, entrepreneurial skills are crucial to move their produce and translate it to income,” advises Annette.

From farm to farm resort

Recognizing the need to diversify in order to cover the farm’s operational costs while waiting for mangoes’ harvest time every other year (Annette discourages induced flowering of mangoes), Diaspora invested in non-agricultural component, that is, a resort and events facility in 2010.

Diaspora Farm Resort also maintains 1,081 posts of dragon fruits planted in one part of the property. Irrigation is through solar power provided by DOST SETUP.

Diaspora put up a pool, several lodging areas, and other amenities inside the farm. They also opened up a farm store, livestock and poultry areas, and a vegetable orchard to attract visitors. Seeing the trend on social media, Annette attended a one week crash course on integrated organic farming to further boost the income potential of integrating agriculture and tourism. She also joined numerous farm visits both here and abroad.

Banking on Diaspora’s development and the initiative to adopt new technologies, the farm was then recognized as the first agri-tourism farm site in Pampanga by the Department of Tourism. The recognition boosted their income.

Years later, as more and more opportunities abound, Annette continued to enrich herself on the technical and practical sides of farming, as well as in maintaining an agri-tourism site. Diaspora was later accredited by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) Region III as a learning site. Annette started conducting training and seminars on mango production and cultural management, farm tourism, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and climate-smart farm business. Through this, Annette was able to share all she had learned from the numerous training and seminars she’d been to, and from her hands-on experiences in operating a farm. She was also able to share new technologies with other farmers to help them augment their income and rise from poverty (as it did to giving Diaspora Farm a year-round source of income) – a mission Annette wants to accomplish alongside establishing the farm.

Partnerships among government entities did not end there. Diaspora also received training and productivity enhancement assistance (in the form of financial, non-financial, infrastructural, and human resource development, among others) to improve their business as part of the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016, which aims to uplift the situation of the farmers, as well as to entice Filipino youth to go into agriculture. Diaspora became an extension service provider, a training center, and a farm school, administering best practices in farming. Currently, they offer educational tours like Lakbay Aral and leisure activities such as ‘pick-and-pay.’ They ensure that people have something to learn, something to do, something to see, and something to buy inside the farm. They are also now a TESDA-certified training and assessment center for Organic Agriculture Practice NC II.

Diaspora Farm Resort also became one of the beneficiaries of DOST’s (Department of Science and Technology) SETUP (Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program). The farm adopted the program’s grid-tie solar power for irrigation systems that harnesses the extensive potential of sun-based technology. With the innovation, a stable source of water for the fruits, vegetables, and other farm products in Diaspora is assured, elevating productivity as it eliminates the “off-season, in-season” limitation of traditional farming.

From conventional to natural farming

In 2013, Diaspora Farm Resort shifted to natural farming. “If we want to care for the health of the worker, the farmer, the consumer, the environment, and the next generation, there’s no alternative but to go into natural farming,” says Annette.

Diaspora sells farm inputs such as liquid fertilizers and other byproducts which promote the natural way of farming.

Currently, they produce their own fertilizers. One of those is vermicasting through the practice of vermiculture. In addition, they employ pest management to prevent unwanted insects and pests from thriving. They grow plants that are naturally insect-repellant. They also do crop rotation so that insects won’t be able to adapt to the farm environment.

Apart from being certified GAP-compliant by the Department of Agriculture, the farm is now processing their certificate in organic farming. It is no wonder that in years’ time, Diaspora will become a certified organic farm since they have been growing healthy sources of food and continuously adapting and promoting new technologies and innovations in farming.

In the works, Annette says, is the farm’s own food preservation and processing equipment facilities for producing byproducts like vinegar from fruits, pickled mango, etc.

Clearly, Diaspora Farm Resort’s story tells us of hope amidst tragedy, and that farmers could become agripreneurs managing their own agribusiness with the right attitude and the passion to farm. For Annette, doing something noble and making it a social responsibility matters in helping the community rise up. “You need to know your core competencies. Have higher motivation aside from profit – it could be doing something to reach other farmers, or doing something for the next generation,” Annette advises.

“Know that challenges – institutional, climate, etc. will always be present just like any endeavor; remain positive and love what you are doing. But most of all, pray,” Annette concludes.

Through the help of Diaspora’s 12 farmhands, Annette is optimistic that they can do more and contribute to the country’s next generation of farmers.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2020 issue. 

For more information, visit Diaspora Farm Resort on Facebook