By Mike U. Crismundo

BUTUAN CITY – Because of the limitations brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Manobo tribe in the highland community in Carmen town, Surigao del Sur province have turned to sweet potato farming.

In this trying time where food is essential, the Manobo tribe is one of the local government units (LGU’s) partner producers that supply sweet potato to the locals and neighboring areas.

The members of the Mag-uumang Manobo sa Hinapoyan Association (MAMASAHI) have now turned the adversity into their advantage as they ventured into sweet potato farming.

MAMASAHI is a recipient of the Department of Agriculture – Caraga Region’s Special Area for Agriculture Development (SAAD) Program.

The SAAD Program aims to develop livelihood activities which the beneficiaries themselves can effectively manage, use to augment their incomes, and provide employment in the community.

Last August 2019, they received 120,000 sweet potato cuttings which they planted in a three-hectare area, and now they go into massive sweet potato farming in vacant and idle lands in their highland communities.

The sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), locally called “kamote,” was once-touted “a poor man’s crop,” but is now regarded as a “cash crop” for a Manobo tribe.

The 50-member MAMASAHI have now benefited from what they tilled in their highlands.

Because of their hard work, the DA-Caraga intervention now also includes organic fertilizers, farm tools, carabaos, and a hand tractor with a total worth of ₱436,250.

The members of MAMASAHI underwent training on sweet potato production to ensure their readiness in managing the project.

Venancio P. Meniano, Chairman of MAMASAHI, admits that the majority of the villagers are seasonal laborers, with no definite daily income to support the basic needs of their family.

“The support of the DA-Caraga SAAD Program teaches us to use the resources that we have here in our village. Starting to build a production area isn’t difficult for us because we have good soil that can provide us a nutritive crop,” Meniano said.

The MAMASAHI chair very much acknowledged the cooperation of each member on making the idle land to a productive sweet potato garden, and they even managed to expand their area.

Currently, the association has extended another 12 hectares planted in which three-hectares is considered the mother garden.

After three months of waiting, MAMASAHI began to reap their first fruits. Twice a month they  harvest an average of 400-500 kilograms which are sold at the local market at ₱20 – 25 per kilo. The proceeds of the group’s income are set aside as their savings.

“We don’t know when will this crisis ends, but we are grateful that this project will give us an additional source of income at the same time provide food for our family and our community,” Chairman Meniano added.

“We are starting to empower this tribe through the DA-SAAD Program interventions. We are on track to develop the entrepreneurial capabilities of the beneficiaries and improve their knowledge and appreciation that Agriculture is not just farming but also an enterprise,” said Dailinda Mollanida, DA-Caraga SAAD Program Deputy Focal Person.

DA 13 Regional Executive Director (RED) Abel James I. Monteagudo said the sweet potato production is timely as the Plant, Plant, Plant Program was recently launched by Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar.

The program also sought to boost the food sufficiency level of the agriculture commodities that are essential in the country’s food security.

“This is very timely in this hard time, which is also a big help in backyard farming and gardening, also in vacant and idle lands,” RED Monteagudo added.

SAAD is a special program initiated and funded by the DA. The program was launched last year to address poverty particularly in rural areas that are often inaccessible, lacking infrastructure, and where the poorest of the poor resides, also said DA 13 Regional Spokesperson Emmylou T. Presilda.