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Last farmer prospering in highly urban barangay

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(POSTER BOY. Marcelino Musni is testament to success of SM Foundation’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan program. Photo by Bong Lacson)

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO – The impressively massive concrete edifice of Central Luzon’s newest SM mall – set to open this May – caps the total transformation of Barangay Telabastagan from lowly bucolic to highly urban.

By accident of geography, Telabastagan is sprawled right at the tri-boundary of this capital city, Bacolor town and Angeles City.

By land use practicality, the barangay has long served as catch basin to spillovers from the industrial, commercial and housing developments in these contiguous localities.

Totally negating an agricultural past, which, in the first place, was primarily single-cropped, that is near-absolutely sugarcane.

With neither sad lamentation nor angry outrage accompanying its passing over to the industrial divide, it comes as total, if most pleasant, surprise to find one last farmer in Telabastagan.

And prospering, at that! Meet Marcelino Musni.

Refusing to join the diaspora of his fellow tillers from abject slavery to the soil, Marcing soldiered, okay, farmed on, struggling even harder after each unrewarding harvest, many times barely breaking even in his one hectare-plus home-farm he planted to rice, corn and vegetable crops.

Sheer serendipity then for Marcing to participate three years ago in a farmers’ training of Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK), a nationwide program of SM Foundation Inc. – SM yes, in what some may see as a twist of irony – in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development, local government units and the Harbest Agribusiness Corp.

Under the KSK, marginalized farmers, including benefi ciaries of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) undergo a 12- week training on innovative methods and technologies in high-value crop production, seed selection, organic fertilizer, even distribution, primarily for the urban market, whether through SM suppliers or direct to market vendors.

For starters, the application of his KSK training weaned Marcing from almost-total dependence on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

He has since used animal manure as well as produced his own fertilizer from composting weeds and other organic materials. On his own, he had also learned ways of weeding out weak seeds and started making his own stock of strong resilient seeds.

Said he: “You learn a lot from farming experience. Farmers should also learn to innovate and find new ways.”

The results were immediate – his low eight-ton per hectare harvest pre-training almost doubled to an outstanding 15-ton per hectare yield post-KSK.

High-value crops

“I realized that I was not producing high-value crops (HVC) the right way. The training with KSK of SM Foundation’s opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities,” Marcing said.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the volume of harvests outweighs the cost of production with HVCs, thereby making them highly profitable.

That makes a most suitable proposition to urban farmers limited in land to cultivate and short in farming inputs.

Marcing is proof positive of everything good said about the HVCs, including what he called “complementation with the location” of urban farmers like him.

He explained this as “proximity to the demand side” providing them easy access to the food supply chain in the city public markets as well as supermarkets and the malls – all within short distance of his Telabastagan farm.

Marcing is one of the biggest suppliers of radish at the Pampang Market in Angeles City. Aside from radish which production tripled after his KSK training, Marcing grows corn for industrial purposes – animal feeds, earning him P150,000 per cropping.

From Telabastagan, Marcing has “branched out” to still-very-agricultural Magalang town with his purchase of a 1.3-hectare farm. Far from his “primitive” ways of farming before his KSK training, Marcing in Magalang is equipped with farm machineries – his old damulag has long been sold – and irrigation equipment, sourced with the assistance of the city government and, of course, by his own resources.

As in his early beginnings though, farming remains a family aff air for the Musnis – his wife and all seven children doing their share of the hard work: two of them having graduated with degrees in electrical engineering and information technology Poster boy Wednesday last week, KSK’s Rural Farmers’ Training opened in Barangay Maimpis.

“Ito na yung pang-156 batch ng KSK, kung saan sila ay tuturuan sa tamang pagtatanim ng mga iba’t-ibang klase ng gulay na makikita sa isang pinakbet dish. Sa ganitong paraan ay natutulungan natin sila upang tumaas ang kanillang produksyon para guminhawa ang kanilang pamumuhay. Tutulungan din sila ng SM Foundation na i-market ang kanilang mga produkto,” said SM Foundation Inc. assistant vice president for outreach programs Cristie Angeles before some 200 participants from the city’s different barangays.

Taking centerstage at the opening program was Marcelino Musni, poster boy of KSK success as both program of SM corporate service responsibility, and the socio-economic uplift of those in the urban peripheries. For Marcing, it was payback time.

Having undergone the same program three years ago in Barangay Del Rosario and benefi ted so much from it.

With his sharing his best practices, if not the secret of his success, KSK is bound to harvest more Marcings, ensuring that Telabastagan’s last farmer would need not be the other barangays’ last one too.

“There should be more urban farmers. Farming can exist in the urban set up,” he said. Marcing did not have to point to himself, he only needed to stand there to prove his point.

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