Organic Agriculture is Caring for the People and the Environment: The Carmelfarms Story
The couple, Santiago (Santi) and Carmelita (Mely) Cervantes are organic practitioners and trainers in Zone 4, Binanuaanan, Pili, Camarines Sur. Santi is 61 years old with an MS Business Management degree while Mely has a postgraduate degree at UPLB.
In 2004, Mely was introduced to PABINHI Pilipinas, a network of scientists and farmers that promote sustainable agriculture and seed sharing. The network was instrumental in providing different farmer-bred selections and traditional/ heirloom rice which they tested in their farms. Also in the same year, Mely learned about the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technology and natural farming through readings and interactions with farmers. She later joined the SRI-Pilipinas Network, a national advocacy group promoting SRI. Now, Mely is a volunteer scientist, and also the regional focal person and trainer on SRI in Bicol Region.
Mely carried her passion on organic agriculture in her job as a faculty, researcher, and extension worker at the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) where she gained support for her research and advocacy works on organic agriculture (OA). Her knowledge and skills in OA are enhanced through her participation in various researches, and in local and international conferences. Her endeavours in developing OA farms, including the Carmelfarms are also recognized by the CBSUA. Their farm now serves as research and teaching laboratory for students.
The thriving success of their farm is influenced and strengthened through the support of the following institutions: 1) The Organic Bikol Advocateurs Network (OBAN) which operates organic weekend market where farm products are sold;
2) Department of Agriculture (Agricultural Training Institute and RFO-5), providing support for composting facilities and trainings; and 3) Bicol Federation of Dairy Cooperatives (BFDC) that provides the dairy animals, technical support and other logistics for dairy farming, and market for raw milk.
The decision to venture into a more sustainable farming was an outcome of the learning and exposures of the couple at UPLB since the 1990’s. Santi attended UPLB’s summer short course on sustainable agriculture in 1993. He was the Project Coordinator of Pecuaria Development Cooperative’s Organic Agriculture program from 1996 to 1999. These exposures changed Santi’s outlook in farming and environmental protection.
Mely, on the other hand, was exposed to the concepts and practices of sustainable agriculture while taking up her graduate degree at UPLB. These exposures, knowledge, and skills on OA helped Santi and Mely develop the Carmelfarms leading to its recognition as organic farms in the Bicol region.
The farm has a training hall and sleeping quarters that can accommodate 25-30 participants at any given time. Trainings on organic agriculture, SRI, and dairy farming are conducted here. The couple had already trained more than 1,500 participants consisting of agricultural technicians and extension workers, teachers, NGO staff, farmers, LGU officials, and private persons. Food, some of which are produced in the farm, is provided. The whole farm serves as an organic agriculture learning and techno-demo facility and field research laboratory.
Santi and Mely produce all the organic fertilizers used in their farm. They maintain 4-bed composting facility, each bed measures 1 x 8 meters with 0.75 m depth. All the animal waste and plant residues are collected daily and placed in boxes to decompose. Decomposition is hastened by watering with IMO and FPJ at 30 ml (2 tbsp) per liter of water or 1 canful (small sardine can) of each concoction per 16 litre of water (1 tank load) or 1 medium sized pail. Rain water (the farm has rain harvesters) or water from the fishpond is used for watering the substrates since they believe that water from faucets contain chlorine which kills the composting microorganisms. When substrates are ready, vermiworms (African night crawler) are carefully laid on the bed at 1 kg worm per square meter substrate. Continuous watering to maintain proper moisture of substrates is done. Properly moistened substrate is indicated by 5-7 drops of water when substrate is pressed tightly in the palm.
The vermiworms are most active at night and are sensitive to light, low moisture, noise and vibrations. They are also protected from pests (chicken, ducks, lizards, frog, and others) that eat them. Hence, to make the vermiworms always productive, bins are always covered with materials such as banana leaves and bracts, coconut leaves, plywood, old sacks, and nets to simulate darkness throughout the day, and to protect the worms from heat, pests, and loss of moisture. The facility is also protected from unnecessary noise from machines, humans, and animals. Worms are handled very carefully by allowing them to be transferred to adjacent bins with new substrates for easy harvesting of vermicasts and composts.
The Carmelfarms has been certified organic since 2007 by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) as a satellite farm of Pecuaria Development Cooperative, Inc. (PDCI). Despite this Santi and Mely still have plans for the farm and they are looking forward to increase sustainability and resiliency. The Cervantes’ plans to further increase the farm’s biodiversity and sustain production and income. The area for feed crops sources will be increased and intensified by planting highly productive feed crops. Animals will be maintained to continuously supply the substrates for organic fertilizer. Production, training, and accommodation facilities shall be improved to withstand typhoons that are frequent in the area.
(This article is written by: Santiago Cervantes and Carmelita N. Cervantes and has been drawn from the book, ORGANIC AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGIES AND SYSTEMS DEVELOPED AND ADAPTED BY FARMERS IN THE PHILIPPINES, with consent from the Editors: Oscar B. Zamora and Blesilda M. Calub.)