Restoring Dignity of Farmers
At 82 years old, a person such as Romulo Davide already has a lot of feathers in his cap. He is a University of the Philippines Los Baños Professor Emeritus, and a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2012 for his Farmer-Scientists Training Program (FSTP) to which more than anything else, he is the enduring light to many farmers all over the country. In an interview with UP Forum, Davide shares how his award-winning project known as the Farmer-Scientists Training Program (FSTP) speaks of his life in a continuum.
Just a kid from Argao
His roomful of documents piled up on his desk and floor, jars containing various plant specimens, and of course, the pictures hanging on his office walls on the different times of his life tell of his very productive, yet humble life.
He points to a picture in black and white hanging on a wall close to the door of his office. He tells about how a young Davide in white polo shirt and trousers, bare foot along with his school mates at the public school grounds in Barangay Colawin, Argao, Cebu, dreamed of not just finishing school, but also going back armed with the knowledge of improving farming in his hometown.
It takes a young Davide who was early on exposed to the hardship of tilling the land as his family makes a living through farming to have such a dream to further improve agriculture by means of science and technology through what he calls “the secret weapon” that is education.
Taking it from the words of his father who was a teacher at his hometown’s public school, “there is no barren land, only barren minds,” Davide continued and pursued his studies to become the farmer-scientist that he is today.
As a scientist
Dr. Davide had to cope with the pressure of school and work, but managed to obtain his BS Agriculture degree in 1957 from the College of Agriculture in UP Los Baños. Shortly after, he pursued a M.Sc. in Plant Pathology at Oklahoma State University which was followed by a PhD in Nematology-Plant Pathology from the North Carolina State University.
“Being a scientist and professor of Plant Pathology and Nematology at the Plant Pathology Department, College of Agriculture, UPLB, I started teaching and research work in the laboratory. I did research, mainly to identify plant diseases caused by nematodes, those microscopic pests that attack the root system of fruits, vegetables, root crops and other plants,” he said.
“We spent several years doing studies on the biological control of plant parasitic nematodes until we discovered a soil fungus, Paecilomyceslilacinus that feeds on the eggs, larvae, and adult nematode body and eventually kills the nematode,” he continued.
After working on this study with the help of his students and research assistants, Dr. Davide was able to develop the Biocon technology for the biological control of nematodes that attack the roots of many crops like rice, corn, banana, citrus, vegetables and others. According to Davide, Biocon is now registered and patented as Bioact. Its most significant contribution is that “it is harmless to man and animals compared to highly toxic and costly imported chemical nematicides,” he empashized. Bioact is now manufactured in Germany with markets in Europe, South America, USA and other countries worldwide.
As an Agriculture Extension Worker
The “Father of Plant Nematology” shared how he led in developing FSTP,which was part of the lecture series of the Ramon Magsasay Award Foundation. This award is the Asian equivalent of the Nobel peace prize.
“Lacking in scientific farming technology, the farmers only produce low yields and therefore insufficient for their families. Thus, they remain poor and hungry and peace and order is a perennial problem. This was basically the situation in Cebu where we started our extension work in 1994,”Davide said.
“In response to this scenario and to address the poverty and hunger problem of our poor farmers, especially those in the upland mountainous communities, I conceived a program that was specifically designed to liberate the poor farmers from the bondage of poverty and hunger and is based on the assumption that farming is business. The farmers will not only grow corn but also staple crops like sweet potato, cassava, vegetables, fruit crops and other crops of commercial value and integrate them with backyard animal production.
“Farmers are Scientists through FSTP. The Corn-based Farmer-scientists Research, Development and Extension (RDE) Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development (FSTP) is based on the premise that farmers are smart individuals who by themselves can become scientists who implement and design experiments to arrive at useful conclusions with the guidance of scientists.”
The Cebuano scientist was also awarded the 1994 Gawad Saka Outstanding Agricultural Scientist Award from the Department of Agriculture that included a PHP 500,000 research grant along with the Jose Rizal Pro Patria Gold Medal from then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos. He said that he was “greatly challenged to help poor farmers so that they can live in peace and prosperity.”
“They have no right to remain poor and so the FSTP program was implemented initially with the PHP 500,000 research grant in cooperation with the local and regional government agencies like the DA-RFU 7, DOST 7, Dep Ed 7, Argao LGUs and NGOs,” he added.
As the FSTP project leader
He further explains, “Under the FSTP program, farmers have to undertake three phases, namely: Phase I: farmers do research with the scientists in the field and also learn the value of love of God, country and people. They design and conduct experiments that include land preparation, varietal and fertilizer trials, intercropping, among others, which is the initial and technical part of FSTP for the farmers to become farmer-scientists.”
Meanwhile, Phase II means “farmers adopt the scientific methods and technologies learned in Phase I into their own farms, such as the use of new high-yielding varieties of corn, sweet potato and vegetables, correct use and application of fertilizer, correct preparation and care of soil.”
In Phase III, “farmers teach untrained fellow farmers in their barangay by serving as volunteer technicians and extension workers. Thus Phases I and II cover the R&D aspect of the program while Phase III takes care of the extension portion,” he pointed out.
Today, FSTP has expanded to several towns south and west of Argao, and other towns north and west of Cebu City. It has covered a total of 37 towns in Cebu and trained more than 30,000 farmers throughout the Philippines. Also, FSTP is now being implemented as a national program under Executive Order No. 710 since 2008.
“We are glad with this nationwide coverage since we can now reach out to our poorest farmers, regardless of religion, creed or tribal affinity. Thus we have now Mangyan farmer-scientists in the mountains of Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro and the Blaan indigenous people in the mountains of Alabel, Sarangani Province in Mindanao,” said Davide.
Other areas where FSTP is being implemented include Zamboanga del Norte, Masbate, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur which belong to the top ten provinces with the highest poverty incidence.
Among the impacts of the FSTP program are the technical empowerment of poor farmers, especially in upland communities for socio-economic progress; improvement of corn, vegetable and livestock production through the introduction of high-yielding corn varieties and improved livestock; reduction in farmers’ cost of production by more than 50 percent through the introduction of newly developed microbial and organic fertilizers like BIO-N, chicken manure, and vermi-compost; as well as improvement in the farmers’ annual income especially in corn production from zero before the training to PHP 125,000 or more after the training.
UP under the sun, restoring dignity to farmers
Dr. Davide concludes, “It is basically bringing UP under the sun, in the farm fields and importantly in the minds of the farmers.” He recalls the joy of farmers after every training, when a simple “graduation ceremony” happens. “Every farmer feels that he, too, is an Iskolar ng Bayan.”
He gives much importance to farmers as they are the real heroes who cultivate our land and feed us. Thus, it is only right to bring dignity to their laborious work by empowering them through “direct contact with agricultural scientists and experts to improve their living conditions beyond the poverty level.”
At 82 years old, Dr. Davide has a mind that is as sharp as a tack, and the stamina that keeps him as busy as ever and moving all over the Philippines, in furtherance of his commitment to bringing farmer-scientist training to the countryside.
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1 Personal interview with Professor Emeritus Romulo G. Davide, 22 June 2016 at his faculty room, Plant Pathology Department, UP Los Baños.
2 Davide, Romulo G. (2012). From the laboratory to the land: Teaching and making small farmers more productive farmer-scientists. Presented at the 2012 Magsaysay Awardees’ Lecture Series, Magsaysay Center, Manila, 30 August.
3 Cebu farmer-scientist Davide wins Magsaysay award. (2012, September 1). Cebu Daily News – Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/262112/cebu-farmer-scientist-davide-wins-magsaysay-award