Mang Gaspar humbly shows off one of the vegetables grown in his farm.
Photo credit: WFP Philippines/ Jaslin Masbud
An organic farming project in the Philippines is still yielding income, hope and prize-winning pineapples in the local community - even years after the original WFP-EU programme was completed.
Gaspar Balongquit lost a leg in 1989 when a fish truck side-swept him while he was on his motorcycle. At that time, Gaspar was working as a community volunteer in the construction of the Liangan Bridge in Lanao del Norte. The accident did not stop Gaspar from looking for better opportunities that would help him support his wife and five children.
But in 2008, conflict between government forces and separatist groups erupted in the province, affecting their community’s livelihood. With farming as their main livelihood, most residents – including Gaspar – could not tend to their farm, for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
Two years later, as the community began to recover from the effects of the conflict, Gaspar heard about a bio-intensive gardening project that was going to be implemented in their community. The initiative, funded by the European Union (EU) and assisted by WFP, would give participants rice in exchange for their work in the garden.
Mang Gaspar and his wife, with their pineapple plants
Photo Credit: Marilou M. Cezar
Gaspar was determined to participate in the project. “Yes, I am disabled, I lost my limb in an accident, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be productive. I am very proud of myself! My disability challenges me to work more, so that I can feed my family and send my children to school,” he told them.
Gaspar and 32 other participants formed the Bacolod Sustainable Association (BASA), which cultivated half a hectare of land for the project. When the EU and WFP assistance ended, Gaspar replicated it in his own land with the help of his family members.
While today most of BASA’s members have stopped working on the garden, Gaspar continues to cultivate his – both to provide good food for his family, and to make some money.
The income from his garden has allowed him send his children to school.. Today, they are all professionals: two are in the military service, two are teachers, and one is a nurse.
Gaspar remembers how his garden started small, and how he earned his first PhP27,000 (USD625) from his bell peppers – which he continues to propagate until now. Since then, Gaspar’s garden has grown to produce other quality crops, including an eight-kilo pineapple that won an organic farming exhibit.
Gaspar is now being considered for a regional competition on organic farming. If he wins, he can participate in the national competition, where he can win a tractor and PhP1 million (about USD23,000). He has big plans: “I’d use the prize money to expand my farm area, and to turn it into a visiting site where other farmers can learn about new farming technologies and systems, and where tourists can experience agricultural life first hand.”