Turning Barren Land Into Productive Farm
His work as a government employee didn’t stop Benjamin R. Lao from pursuing his first love, which is farming. In fact, he plans to retire early to concentrate on his farm in Eman, a barangay of Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
“My first love is farming,” this Gawad Saka 2008 national awardee for coconut farming told the press corps of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region VI. After all, his parents were both farmers and he grew up in a surrounding where people were planting rice, corn, and several other crops.
The Lao family owns about 40 hectares of land. In 1998, his mother divided the land equally among the eight children.
“I am the fifth but I was unanimously chosen to assign which portion of the land should be given to each sibling,” he said.
For some unknown reason, he selected the land that was so infertile that cogon grass would not even grow on it. He also purchased another 5 hectares, which is just near his farm.
To transform the barren land into an agricultural haven, Lao started reading agricultural magazines and other publications. He also attended trainings conducted by government agencies like DA, Philippine Coconut Authority, and Department of Science and Technology. “I have to learn all the basics,” he said.
Since the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) is just located in an adjacent barangay, Lao decided to visit the place. “I was impressed by the way they conserve the soil and the farming systems they have developed through the years,” he said.
He immediately attended some of the training the MBRLC carried out and tried to adopt the techniques in his own farm. Since he was already a government employee at that time, he had to travel about two hours from Davao City to his farm during weekends just to supervise the innovations he had learned.
The first he developed was the hilly portion as he had to protect the soil from erosion, he said. With the knowledge he gained from the MBRLC through the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT), a soil conservation technique, he planted the area with various nitrogen-fixing hedgerows like Flemingia macrophylla, Desmodium rensonii, and Indigofera anil, which are good sources of fertilizer since these are legumes. Later on, he planted them all over his farm.
He also thought of adding goats. In the beginning, he had only seven goats and the manure were used as organic fertilizer. But he found out there was money in goats, so he opted to increase the number. Today, he has about 170 heads in his farm. “Buyers just come to my farm and select the goats they want to buy,” he said. He uses the hedgerows as additional feed for his goats as “legumes, explains Lao, contain as high as 16 percent crude protein and therefore provides good nourishment to the goats.”
Goats are also good sources of milk, and the milk he gets from his goats are used to make home-made Donna Belle durian ice cream. The extra milk are sold either as ice candy or as fresh milk at the market outlet in the town proper, about 10 kilometers away from the farm.
Lao is also raising 32 pigs in his farm. “They are good source of income for my family,” he said. He uses the manure a, source of methane gas and organic fertilizer. “We save money since we are no longer buying LPG and firewood to cook our food and products.” ‘
When he inherited the 5-hectare farm, there were already coconut trees growing. ‘Every three months, he harvested 400-600 nuts. But several months after he planted the nitrogen-fixing legumes, the coconut yield markedly increased to 15,000 nuts per quarter.
He also ventures into a value-adding enterprise. He produces coconut sugar and coconut honey out of the coconut sap or toddy gathered from his coconut trees. “These coco products have low glycemic index, a measurement of blood sugar, thus good for diabetics and those having prostate problems,” he said. “It has also glumatic acid, the same ingredient present in Viagra.”
Currently, he is selling his coco products at the town outlet, in the cities of Digos General Santos, Butuan, and Metro Manila. “Demands for our products are continuously increasing,” he said.
On value adding, Lao pointed out, “[It] is an important component in a farming system. For instance, if you have goats, you must know how to produce fresh milk and having other saleable products from the animals. In the case of coconut, don’t think only of copra because when it is cheaper, you can always have another product to sell.”
Aside from coconut, the farm is also teeming with various fruits like lanzones (more than a thousand trees), durian (700 trees), mangosteen, and rambutan. “I bought them one at a time with my salary as a government employee,” he said. Today, according to DA, he earns a gross income of P500,000 from his integrated coconut farm.
In his farm, you won’t see his farm workers using chemical pesticides. This, says Lao, is because “I had a tragic experience with chemical pesticides when I was still a teenager while cultivating rice in our farm located at the neighboring barangay,” he revealed.
Instead, he recommends using Eman, which stands for epektibo, mura, at natural (effective, cheap, and natural). “This is a concoction composed of fresh goats’ manure, kakawate, makabuhay, and hot pepper,” he informed. “These are soaked together for 48 hours and after that the concoction is ready for application.”
According to him, Eman is effective in repelling plant pests and diseases. In addition, it is also a good source of foliar fertilizer. “We are committed to help preserve our environment. We want to teach Filipino farmers the right way of farming through natural method and that is by not using commercial fertilizer or pesticides,” he said.
To people who have been to his farm, they have described it as a haven. You don’t see only livestock and crops but ornamentals as well. “It’s nice to see beautiful flowers underneath the trees,” he explained. “Also, the flowers serve as breeding areas for beneficial insects like spiders and dragonflies.”
With his vast knowledge in farming, Lao was chosen in 2005 as the most outstanding farmer of Davao del Sur. The following year, he was recognized by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development as a Magsasakang Siyentista (scientific farmer). And then last year, of course, the DA bestowed to him the honor of being one of the country’s outstanding farmers. “It was far beyond my expectation,” he said of the recent award he received.
By Henrylito D. Tacio