Growing up in a family of farmers in North Cotabato, Christine Jodloman’s eyes were opened to the hardships farmers faced at a very young age. She remembers walking past rice fields and seeing farmers working the land from sunrise to sundown. One day, while at a sari-sari store, Christine overheard a farmer borrowing some rice for dinner. Confused why a farmer who is growing rice has no rice for his family, Christine would never forget this encounter.
“I promised myself to help my community in any way that I can, so that children of farmers like myself will not experience the struggle of their parents. Farmers shouldn’t have to buy the rice that they planted themselves.”
Years later, Christine is fulfilling this promise. As the Director of Community Development and Programs at AGREA Foundation, Christine helps eradicate poverty among farming and fishing families. Their work in AGREA focuses on including more women and youth for a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture sector.
Going back to her roots
Throughout her career, agriculture has always been close to Christine’s heart. Having been raised in a rural farming community, she observed the lack of young farmers, and lack of motivation of older farmers to grow food. Narratives in agriculture in her community were also negative, mirroring the realities on the field.
Her undergraduate research at the University of the Philippines Mindanao led her to a deeper understanding on the aging farmers in rural communities.
When she had the opportunity to join a grant competition of the United States Embassy in the Philippines, Christine submitted a proposal which aimed to train children of farmers in her community. Fortunately, she was given the grant and it ignited her lifelong passion for the development sector.
“The grant allowed me to train children of farmers to learn about sustainable agricultural practices, agribusiness, and climate change mitigation techniques. I was filled with joy because I got to train 30 children of farmers. They would later on train 300 farmers in Bangsamoroand indigenous people communities.”
Her work in AGREA also allowed her to focus on the youth from conflict-affected communities. Christine recalls that their youth trainees were deeply impacted by the loss of their home and family members during the Marawi siege and all other forms of conflict in their communities. Christine believes that they need opportunities that would give them hope and help them rise from the disruptions of war. She believes that education can help them heal, as Christine was also raised in a conflict-affected area growing up in North Cotabato. Education has been her way to learn peaceful means towards development.
“We have trained over 120 young people in agriculture, and I believe it became a part of trauma healing after the war. We should continue to expose the Filipino youth to agribusiness opportunities so they can see that they can earn in agriculture. We just need the right information, the right network, and the right platform to do it.”
The power of women
Women empowerment is one of AGREA’s core programs. Through the leadership of her own agriculture inspiration and mentor - Cherrie Atilano, Christine believes in the potential of women to bring progress to their communities. Christine puts emphasis on the importance of women’s association in providing women farmers the opportunity to participate in decision-making and access support services.
Christine believes that women farmers are not merely the proxies in their husband's absence. Women farmers can do more— from budgeting to taking charge of the family’s nutrition.
“In AGREA, one of our programs is to develop women’s food producers associations. We have five chapters in different provinces including Marinduque, Siargao, Bohol, Laguna, and Payatas. It’s time we realize that women have the same capacities and should have the same opportunities as male farmers.”
Christine recalls Adel, one of AGREA’s partner farmers from Marinduque who became the benchmark in their women empowerment program. Adel is a farmer leader who was able to improve her quality of life over the years through sustainable agricultural practices and the support of AGREA. Adel was able to improve their house through farming, and was able to earn ten times more than her previous income.
“It gives me so much hope that women farmers can be more like her. She’s willing to share her learnings to her fellow farmers. For me that is the basis of empowerment—when you are able to share your knowledge and resources to others.”
A chance to dream
Apart from women, the youth also play a very important role in the agriculture sector. Christine recalls reading a study that found out that eight out of ten Filipinos do not have a dream. She believes that the youth should have the opportunity and chance to have a dream and motivate them to build a purpose driven life.
“We have this activity that asks what’s their dream for themselves, their families, their communities, their province, and finally their dream for the Philippines. This is to make them see that their dreams can contribute to nation building.”
She also emphasizes the need for skills in values formation and leadership for the youth. Christine believes that values like humility and hardwork are important to instill in the youth to keep them grounded. She also believes in the youth’s potential to empower the whole sector by taking the initiative to become leaders in their own communities.
With the Philippine farmer population growing older each year, Christine hopes that we can convince the youth to see the many opportunities in agriculture. One way to effectively campaign for agriculture is through dialogues and learning sessions that acknowledge the involvement of smallholder farmers.
“What I appreciate about our partnership with PPSA is how it alway includes the farmer sector in designing solutions. I look forward to more collaborations this year, to more dialogues, to really including our participatory discussions with our farming communities, cooperatives, and associations.”
Christine thinks that a participatory approach is the best way towards sustainable development, especially in our agriculture sector. She emphasizes the need for farmers, fisherfolks, and food producers to be included in their life's work.
Facilitator of change
Christine looks back with great fondness to the little girl walking past the rice fields. It took a while but she is now making a difference in the farmers’ lives. She is also grateful to the women in her life who taught her to dream. Since she was a kid, her mother instilled in Christine that agriculture is important because it sustained them through the years. It was the reason they were able to go to school.
“She would always remind us you cannot silence a person with an empty pocket and hungry stomach" and agriculture is a way to address this. She instilled in us that no matter what we become, we should always remember that we are a family of farmers. We came from this humble field and profession but at the same time, we should be proud of that because farmers are part of feeding the nation.”
While her work in AGREA and the agriculture sector helped change the lives of their assisted farmers, Christine sees herself not as a changemaker but as someone who has the platform and opportunity to assist farmers in making the change. Christine reminds other development workers to always co-create programs with the farmers so farmers can take ownership of the solution.
“The changemakers would always be the farming communities and the farmers. Our job is to be the facilitator of change. Personally, I can see my mother and father in the people we have trained. That’s what continues to inspire me.”