Born to a family of farmers, Tarcila “Tasing” Jurado Bunayog is accustomed to the hustle and bustle in the farm. At an early age, Tasing learned farming from her parents. Aside from being a farmer, she balances her roles as a farmer leader, a mother, wife, and grandmother. It is an everyday dance for Tasing to balance life and ensure that everything is in order at home, on the farm, and their cooperative. Despite the challenges she is faced with as a corn farmer, she depends on it to sustain her grandchild's education.
“Hindi po ako tumitigil sa pagtatanim ng mais dahil every six months makaka-harvest ka. Pag may estudyante kang pinag-aaral, kailangan nakakaharvest kada semester. Yun ang nagustuhan ko sa corn. (I never stopped planting corn because I get to harvest it every six months. I need to harvest every semester to support my grandchild’s education. That’s what I like about corn farming.”
As the General Manager of the Salvacion Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SMPC) in Kadingilan, Bukidnon, she feels it is her duty to influence their community in a positive way so they can improve their living conditions. SMPC which started with 15 members has been operating for 32 years. Today it has grown to having 295 regular members, 168 of whom are female and 117 are male. While SMPC is composed mostly of corn and cassava farmers, the cooperative also explores planting other crops to create diverse products and increase profit which Tasing is most proud of.
THE COST OF BEING A CORN FARMER
The Philippines has one of the lowest corn yields, at only 3.17 mt/ha in 2019 despite being the the second largest corn producer in Southeast Asia. Corn farming is among the poorest in the agricultural sector with second highest poverty incidences among various agricultural activities in the country.
In Tasing’s case, when market prices are good, she earns up to Php 40,000 in one cropping season. But on days when market prices are low, she earns an average income of Php 20,000 to Php 25,000.
Tasing’s household expenses cost an average of Php 15,000 a month, excluding tuition fees and other school expenses thus, budgeting can be a challenge. On top of household and school expenses, she also allocates a budget for farm inputs. Farming costs her around Php 50,000 to Php 60,000 per hectare each in one cropping season.
Because of the uncertainty of income in corn farming, Tasing looked for other means to make ends meet for her and her family. To cut costs on food expenses, Tasing planted fruits and vegetables in their 600 sqm backyard garden. Tasing’s husband also tends to their livestock.
An entrepreneurial mindset inspired Tasing to rent out the lower portion of their house to small businesses which earns her Php 40,000 monthly. Meanwhile, her work in SMPC earns her Php 10,000 every month.
“Kailangan madiskarte para makaraos ang mga pangangailangan sa buhay. Ang isip ko nasa pagsasaka lagi. Ini-schedule ko ang mga gawin ko at pinaghahandaan ko lahat sa bahay at sa sakahan, ang baon ko pagkain ng asawa’t anak ko, pati ng apo ko. Tsaka ina-arrange ko ang mga laborers ko sa farm. (You have to be resourceful to cope with the demands of life. My mind is always on farming. I schedule my tasks and prepare meals for myself and my family. I also guide my laborers for a full day’s work at the farm).
CHALLENGES CORN FARMERS FACE
Aside from the fluctuating market prices and rising input costs, corn farmers like Tasing also have to deal with challenges such as calamities, pests that damage the crops, and drought. Because they can’t produce good quality corn, customers are also not keen on buying and as a result, profit is low
Finding no hope in corn farming, others have shifted to different crops. Some would even rent out or sell their land instead. Tasing expresses her concerns as she sees that it is not sustainable in the long run because when the money runs out, farmers won’t have enough land to plant their crops.
“Siguro iniisip nila na buo ang matatanggap nilang pera, pero hindi nila naisip na ang pera na yun mauubos. Yung lupa nila hindi yan mauubos at makakasagot pa yan sa problema nila. Yun ang pinaparating ko sa kanila na isipin nilang mabuti bago nila ipa-renta o magbenta.” (I encourage them to think hard before renting or selling their lands. They might think that it’s easier to earn a huge amount of money all at once, but that money will run out. Their lands do not and it has the potential to solve their problems).
Tasing hopes that corn farmers can earn a sustainable income. Support received from the government and the private sector in the form of subsidies, farm inputs, and trainings are some of the things that she appreciates as it saves them money that they could instead use for their personal necessities and at the same time it also equips them with the skills and knowledge to care for their lands in a sustainable way. She thinks having enough land to plant their corn will make a difference.
“Gusto ng mais ang lupa namin dito sa Kadilingan. Kailangan lang namin ng sapat na lupang masasaka.” (Corn thrives in our lands in Kadilingan. We just need enough land to farm).
Food waste is another problem in their community. Tasing hopes that they can find opportunities for the many hectares of damaged corn just as other communities are doing.
“Dito tinatapon lang yung mga damaged corn hindi na magamit kasi drought. Dalawa o tatlong hektarya din ang nasasayang pero sa ibang lugar binebenta yun. Sana may mga facilities kami para sa silage tsaka for corn drying, siguro kikita kami dito.” (In Kadingilan, two to three hectares of damaged corn are thrown away and wasted. In other places they make a business out of them. If we have facilities for silage and corn drying, we can earn a profitable income.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN
As a farmer leader, she believes women have the potential to make significant contributions to the community when women are supported and given the right opportunities. Tasing sees that women can do just as much as men in their community. If given the opportunity, she finds that there are many ways for them to earn and contribute to their family’s income.
To support them, she puts them to work in the cooperative in harvesting cassava crops. However she worries when they can no longer provide them with work, especially when the crop is not in season. She thinks a sustainable livelihood would be a great help in providing them a stable income.
“Kaya gusto ko ang mga trainings dito sa kooperatiba namin para sa mga kababaihan para suportahan pa sila at matuto silang mag-isip na pag may tulong na darating, palaguin pa nila ang tulong na yun. Para hindi lang nakadepende sa suporta.” (I appreciate the training that our cooperatives provide for women. This will help them learn not to depend on the support they are receiving but instead learn to expand them to create opportunities for themselves).
She thinks exploring livestock farming can be a good livelihood for them. Visiting agricultural areas especially in the Luzon area, she saw that corn silage is also a great way to earn an additional income.
A LEARNING PROCESS
For Tasing, who has spent most of her life as a farmer, she thinks that there is still so much to learn and discover in farming. She believes not only in the growing of crops but also in the growing of a farmer’s mind.
“Bilang isang corn farmer leader na babae mas na-appreciate ko yung mga tulong na galing sa iba’t ibang ahensya na nag-train at nagadvise sa amin, sa mga nagpalago sa isip namin sa pagtatanim.” (As a woman farmer and leader, I appreciate all the help that we are receiving from different agencies. We are grateful for their guidance and advice that cultivates our minds in farming).
The multiple roles she has to play to lift her family, her farm, and their cooperatives is a testament to the tenacity of a woman farmer to lead and contribute to her community. To ensure the sustainability of the sector, Tasing encourages us to put our hopes on the women and the youth by giving them access to training opportunities so that they may continue what they have started.
AGREE is a research project funded by the International Development Research Centre and implemented by Grow Asia through its country chapters in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It aims to contribute a catalogue of what's working, what’s needed, and how to scale women's economic empowerment via low-carbon strategies—a gap identified by Grow Asia on effectively mainstreaming gender across its network.