For many farmers, the future looks bright, green, and full of good food.

Crops were harvested and caps were thrown in celebration as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines, together with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and the East-West Seed Company, Inc. oversaw graduation ceremonies for its partner farmers in Mindanao at the end of 2019.

Women from Barangay Binuni, Bacolod, Lanao del Norte, teach their fellow community members how to prepare natural fertilizer – a technology that had been passed on to them through the Sustainable Farm to Table Program. The program trains communities how to farm organically, which in turn keeps them from making use of harmful agricultural inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizer. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The Sustainable Farm to Table Program has been empowering farmers in rural communities across the Philippines since its inception in 2017. A three-phase endeavor, the program first teaches farmers natural agriculture practices, before organizing them into cooperatives for them to pool their finances and make investments for their community. They are then introduced to buyers, to provide their agro-businesses links to potential sustainable markets.

For many communities in Mindanao, the first few workshops are complete. Now armed with knowledge on how to run their own all-natural farms, the farmer graduates will implement what they have learned and will share these learnings to others.

“For our graduates, this is a step in the right direction. It’s about equipping them with better skills for better yields. With the right technology, our farmer graduates are empowered to become agents of change within their communities, to share the knowledge they have acquired and create public livelihood ventures for their communities,” explained WWF-Philippines Sustainable Food Systems Project Manager Monci Hinay. The goal of WWF-Philippines is to defeat rural hunger by helping communities grow their own food with as little cost to the planet as possible.

“At the end of these graduation rites, I’d say our farmers are ready. Ready to share their knowledge and become more productive members of the community,” added Hinay.

Chief technology partner East-West Seed Company, Inc. has overseen the many agriculture workshops held under the program. Travelling together with WWF-Philippines across the Philippines, the agriculture company has helped pass on knowledge to hundreds of rural Filipinos.

“Each of our communities’ farms is proof that they really want what they have been learning with us over the past year,” said East West Seed Knowledge Transfer Manager Girlie Banana, speaking outside the graduation rites of a Muslim community in Brgy. Basagad, Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. Advocates of sustainable agriculture, East-West Seed Company, Inc. helps rural communities adopt natural farming practices that stray away from harmful inputs such as chemical pesticides, which cause massive damage to the land. The hope of both WWF-Philippines and East-West Seed Company, Inc. is for everyone to have access to healthy and nutritious food – and these graduation ceremonies are a milestone toward that dream.

WWF-Philippines Sustainable Food Systems Project Manager Monci Hinay gives his own commencement address to the new farming graduates of Barangay Tibao, M’lang, North Cotabato. The graduation ceremonies were held to acknowledge the hard work, effort, and commitment of the program’s partner communities. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The graduation ceremonies represent a step in the right direction – but what comes next? What lies in store for the farmers of Mindanao?

“This graduation is all part of a sustainable livelihood program. There are still plans that we have in store to support these communities, such as financial literacy and business development workshops. We’ll definitely be coming back next year,” said National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) Principal Specialist Jenny Afroilan. NGCP works to provide lasting interventions in their host communities, and the Sustainable Farm to Table Program is a step towards uplifting them from poverty. The next step of the program is to link these communities to buyers from the marketplace, while organizing them into cooperatives for joint savings and investments.

For those from the communities themselves, their dream is for them to take their lives into their own hands. Many of the program’s partner communities have struggled with both food and livelihood insecurity, and often find themselves unable to break from poverty. Equipped with new farming skills from the Sustainable Farm to Table Program, these communities have hope once more that they can take control of their futures.

“We’ll keep growing this farm, because we know it will be of help to us. We’ll take care of it and make it bigger, for our community and for our families,” said Herminia Tacardon, a housewife from Barangay Tibao, M’lang, North Cotabato, speaking proudly through teary eyes. Buying food was a challenge for the people of M’lang who already struggled with unstable livelihoods. With their farm in place, however, a healthy meal is never far away, and they have money left over to spend on improving their community.

With their certificates in hand, the men and women of Basagad welcome in the new year, confident that there will be food to come and that their livelihoods will be more stable with their learnings from the Sustainable Farm to Table Program. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

“Thank you for being part of this program,” said Hinay as he gave his commencement address to the farmers of Barangay Tibao, M’lang. “But our work does not stop here. Let’s keep moving forward. Help us, so we can help you as well.” There are still many challenges ahead for the communities of Mindanao on their road to food and livelihood security. As empowered farmers and stewards of sustainability, however, they now start the new year on the path toward a greener tomorrow.

Originally published on the WWF-Philippines website.

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