By Vina Medenilla
Nowadays, people are seeing the importance of healthy food consumption and domestic food production. This is the same reason why a couple decided to convert their main crop from coffee to adlai a few years ago.
Kiboa Ridge Farms (KRF), a farm that lies in Impasugong, Bukidnon focuses on cultivating adlai with the aim to be “an instrumental in developing and promoting adlai as an alternative food source for Filipinos,” said Patricia de Villa, the farm owner.
KRF was conceptualized in 2018, named after their chosen variety of adlai – Kiboa. It is also synonymous with Mt. Kibuwa, the highest peak in their municipality. “To us, this peak is a symbol of our dedication to become a driving force in helping the Philippines achieve food security and resilience,” de Villa says.
Farm creation and changes over the years
De Villa shares her passion for farming with her husband Miko de Villa, who according to her, has a natural interest in farming and is an active member of the Sustainable Tree Farmers Group of the Philippines, Inc. The couple believes that their interest in farming stems mostly from the influence of their parents who exposed them both to planting crops like rice and coffee.
In 1999, Miko spent a year as a Jesuit volunteer in Bukidnon, where his love for the province developed. Years later, this inclination has urged him to invest in agricultural property. The de Villas continued investing until they got married and were able to officially register the farm in Bukidnon.
At first, they tried growing coffee, a crop that had been previously grown in the same farmland. They also ventured into cattle raising, vermiculture, and tree farming. And in 2017, they came across adlai and gained interest in cultivating it. “We started collaborating with the Northern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (DA-NOMIARC), the research arm of the Department of Agriculture (DA). They provided us with our very first adlai seeds, taught us cultivation and processing techniques, shared best practices, and connected us with other growers,” said de Villa.
Currently, due to the pandemic, she manages the farm remotely and is concentrating on product marketing and distribution, government linkages, and other partnerships that, for her, are essential in developing a sustainable farming practice. She also gets help from their on-site farm manager, whom she coordinates with for their farm projects.
KRF is under a corporate entity owned by the de Villas and their part owners called Bordeindustries, Inc. that is engaged in farm ventures such as tree farming, wood processing or furniture making, and adlai or cereal production and processing.
A nutritious staple food
Adlai (Coix-lacryma-jobi L.), or Job’s Tears, is a crop that is endemic to the Philippines. Although still not extensively grown nationwide, this is promoted by the DA not only because it is more nutritious than rice and corn, but because it is tolerant to pests and diseases, too. It is packed with nutrients and minerals like protein, calcium, and iron, and is also a gluten-free grain with low glycemic index, which means it can help improve blood sugar level and heart-health. Kiboa adlai grain, the farm’s main crop, is said to be bigger in size, whiter in color, and has a quality taste that resembles white rice. This variety is one of the grains with the highest yield, said de Villa, based on the recommendation of DA-NOMIARC.
de Villa says that adlai is a very resilient crop. After sowing from seeds, it will take five to six months for them to be ready for harvest. For maintenance, they only perform weeding and pest control.
Instead of seasonal planting and storing harvested adlai for a long time, they decided to sow every month for a continuous harvest. This way, they could manage the supply and meet the market demand regularly. “What we noticed is that the yield is much lower when planting during the summertime.” In sowing, de Villa says, “We also have to adjust the quantity of what is planted per month in order to have enough products available during peak seasons.”
For every hectare, they can harvest around 1,000 kilos of adlai. “After milling, drying, and sorting, our yield would be about 50% of adlai grains with the right moisture content that are ready for packing and selling,” de Villa expounds.
From farm to family meals
Adlai is a vital crop not only to Kiboa Ridge Farms and the agriculture sector, but also to the de Villas themselves. “For almost two years now, my son has been exclusively consuming adlai. Our family prepares and consumes adlai almost every day. We would only cook rice once a week.”
For every 100g of adlai, de Villa emphasized that a person can get about 14 grams of protein and about three times the nutrients that one can get from consuming 100g of white rice. “It is not so much about food cost savings, but more about the nutritional value for every peso spent on grains.” Based on their experience, she says, “We have noticed that our health and immunity have significantly improved over the last 2 years,” she stressed, “Since we shifted to adlai and concentrated on improving our gut health, I would say that we have really made substantial healthcare savings.” Since their enterprise is incorporated, de Villa admits that they also purchase the adlai that they consume from the business.
Retailing the farm products
Kiboa Ridge Farms sells adlai for P380.00/kilo and offers products to numerous retail partners and community resellers. Consumers can purchase them online, in specialty retail and health stores, and a couple of supermarket stores. Intensifying the distribution in these channels enables the farm to provide better market access to their farmers too.
They’re in the state of improving the quality and propagation process of the crop for consistent production. Apart from adlai, they also have an area designated for tree farming. One of their reforestation efforts includes raising pine (Pinus), falcata (Falcataria moluccana), mahogany, and teak (Tectona grandis) on the farm. There’s also fruit-bearing trees such as coffee, cacao, marang, durian, langka, lanzones, and rambutan, which are all grown for their own consumption. The farm also houses animals like cows, goats, and chickens that are also for personal use.
Hurdles turned lessons
In farming, they’ve also had a fair share of challenges. First, comes with the crops’ quality. “It is very difficult to get a consistent level of quality on the product if the planting practices, planting conditions, and processing are different.” For that reason, the couple ended up focusing on one variety of adlai, which is Kiboa. Now that they’ve learned its cultivation, they share this with their farm partners and workers and make sure that they are given the right quality of inputs. Second is pests. Even though adlai is a resilient plant, it is also “a very attractive type of food for wildlife such as field mice,” says de Villa. To address this, two ways that they perform to alleviate loss in yield is by using natural predators and spreading the risk over a larger planted area. At first, they also tried selling their products straight to consumers, and the problem is, they struggled to sustain the demand for it. As a resolution, they enhanced their marketing strategies and had built a distribution partner to help market their products.
Workers on the field
In the beginning, only their farm manager and a few farmworkers worked for KRF. But as they progress, they have over 30 to 40 partner farmers today.
“Aside from giving them farm inputs. Our farm partners are assured that we will purchase the crops at fair prices. By partnering with us to grow adlai, they are assured that KRF is there to buy their harvest at a fair price. They now have a more predictable source of income at a value that is higher than planting other products.” They also offer technical support and market access to other small-scale farmers and artisans who need a distribution partner.
As part of the essential sector, the farm continues its operations despite the community quarantine ensued by COVID-19. When asked how de Villa manages the farm remotely, she says, “With the inability to visit, we have had to put more trust in our farm manager and farmers.” Due to this situation, they had to make some adjustments, “We have also had to utilize financial technology in sending money and receiving payments. We have also had to step up our e-commerce game and rely on video conferencing and the use of technology in communicating.”
Presently, they are looking into the possibilities of farm tourism. After this crisis, they plan to boost their crop yield next. “We are committed to growing with our farmers, that is why as early as now, we are already preparing to increase our yield well into 2021.”
Photos courtesy of Kiboa Ridge Farms.
For more information, visit Kiboa Ridge Farms.