2012 BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY - REGIONAL
"OASIS...A Farmer's Response Towards Food Security"
By: Xenia Socorro B. Jamero
Katuwang - The Official Magazine of the National Irigation Administration Region 6
For some reason, water comes to mind when I see or hear the word oasis. It connotes life, something that refreshes and keeps one active. In reality, oasis is actually a fertile or green area in a desert; a haven or sanctuary where one can take refuge or escape from something.
For Japok, it's where he gets his daily supply of food to survive.
Japok, whose real name is Franz Jason Baltazar, is a young farmer-entrepreneur in Brgy. Cabuluan, Oton, Iloilo and the incumbent president of MACABITU Irrigators' Association. He's a mechanical engineering graduate and has worked for a private mobile phone service contractor for a few years. When his contract ended, he decided to venture into agriculture because of one simple reason. "Nahadlok ko magutom, amo na nanguma ako (I was afraid to go hungry, so I decided to farm)", he said.
He named his two-hectare land OASIS, an acronym which stands for Organic and Sustainable Intercrop System. The OASIS grows about everything that you would need on top of your table: rice, fish, fruits, vegetables and a wide variety of meat.
There are pigs, at least 38 of them, a hundred chickens and 300 chicks, several ducks, four goats and a cow. As you roam around the area, you can hear a mix of squealing as the pigs demand for food, the quack-quacks of the ducks and the endless excited chuckles of the chickens. The goats say meh-meh once in a while, maybe just to let you know that they are somewhere there. It was the music of life.
Japok started his farm empty-handed, equipped only with a will to survive. He did not know anything about agriculture so the farm became his own school. "Three years nga eskuela ko sa farming, sa tawo, te three years man nga pamirde ko eh, isipon mo na lang nga tuition (fee) (I studied farming for three years from other people, so I was not gaining profit for three years. Think of it as payment for tuition)", he said.
Japok had no money when he started, so he depended on his uncle for capital and guidance. Indi ka magsalig sa ginapamunitan ko (don't depend on what I have fished)", his uncle told him.Tuon ka man pamunit (learn to fish)", he added.
And so Japok learned. He learned not to make money but ideas. ""Ang kuarta madula, but ang idea indi (Money will disappear, but ideas won't)", he said.
His farm grew as his ideas expanded. His first project was the tropical koi fish. Later, he ventured into tilapia breeding, mainly to keep the koi in good condition. The tilapia cleans the wounds of the koi, I learned. Later he grew pigs and expanded koi breeding utilizing the waste from the pig pens to the ponds.
It sounds toxic, but Japok explained that the kangkong and water lily in the ponds filter the toxins, so in the end, the residue can be eaten by the fishes.
I was learning bits of practical science as I talked to him.
It took a great amount of discipline to grow the OASIS. Japok recalls not eating chicken for three years until it grew into a large flock. He started from five hens and a rooster, which he bought from his neighbour to keep them from eating his rice plantation. Now, he supplies about 50-100 chickens each month for the Breakthrough Restaurant, a popular restaurant serving seafood and native dishes in Arevalo, Iloilo City.
The OASIS is an efficient system of integrated farming. The pigs are fed not only with grower feeds but with chicken meat from Japok's own flock. Same goes with the catfish, though they are fed with grower floaters a month before harvest. The chickens feed directly from the miniature rice paddy built straight out from the pigpens. It is covered with protecting nets to secure the chickens inside. There are also pepper plants everywhere, for the chickens to peck on when they are sick. It takes very minimal cost growing everything in the OASIS. Japok believes in "being productive without expenses", he said.
There are also vermicomposts everywhere: at the corners of the ponds, under the banana and papaya plants, inside the pigpens and even beneath the ground of the goats' small house. Vermicomposts are excellent organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.
Japok started OASIS with the sole reason of protecting himself from hunger. But now, he has more than enough to keep his stomach full. He manages to pay his bills from the sale of his bananas, buy clothing and personal stuff from his hogs and poultry, and travel using the income from the fishes. He once used a bike to go in and out his farm, but now, he is a proud owner of several vehicles to help him become more efficient and productive.
Without any background in accounting, he innovated his own system, the "calendar method" where he records all transactions and income in a calendar. Later, the Department of Agriculture encouraged him to use proper bookkeeping.
He earns more than enough from his poultry, hogs and fish production, yet, like a true and wise farmer, he will not give up on rice production. He needs it for consumption, he says.
As much as he has learned from other people, Japok is also willing to share his technology to others. Being the president of the MACABITU IA, he now encourages his members to go into integrated farming.
"Slice ka gamay nga portion para sa integrated (farming). Ngaa mahadlok ka bi mag slice sang isa ka portion sa uma mo nga butangan mo sang lalaswahon mo, poultry mo? Ti subong ginahimo na nila (You slice a small portion from your land for integrated farming. Why would you be afraid to slice a portion of your land to dedicate it for your vegetables and poultry? So now they are doing it already)", he explains.
Japok and his members plan to build a "bagsakan area" where they can gather all their products from rice, poultry and vegetables. Japok had volunteered to help market their products to encourage them on the project. As of now, about four members have started to replicate what Japok had started.
The OASIS grew without any financial assistance from institutions or agencies. Its roots stemmed from a farmer's desire to avoid getting hungry; discipline and patience made it grow into a successful means to combat poverty and hunger not only for Japok, but slowly, for the community surrounding him. It is living proof that a cheap yet sustainable, organic solution can be made feasible, contrary to the general belief that it takes a huge amount of capital for one to get started and rise above poverty.
As it happened for Japok, may the OASIS expand to serve as a model sanctuary of food sufficiency to others.