A Garden Of Bright Agri Writings
November 30, 2015

The winners of the 9th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards are joined by (extreme left) Michael Tan, president of the LT Group, and PMFTC Inc. officials — corporate affairs director Richard James, new president Roman Militsyn, and external affairs director Bayen Elero-Tinga.

The 9th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards were given at glittering ceremonies last Thursday at the Sofitel Sunset Pavilion, with 10 winners in various categories and a Hall-of-Famer being feted by PMFTC officials headed by new president Roman Militsyn, corporate affairs director Richard James, and external affairs director Bayen Elero-Tinga.

Over 600 entries were received from all over the country, with key cities providing most of these entries, including Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Baguio, Manila, and Davao. Agri writers and publications based in Ilocos, Pangasinan and Pampanga were also very competitive this year.

The Agriculture Story of the Year came from Cebu City: Cherry Ann Lim’s “Beyond the Fields” which was published in Sun Star Cebu. The article examines the conditions that lead children to work in sugarcane farms in Cebu. It details how education, livelihood support and social protection for their families, provided under a non-government organization and local government partnership, can help remove children from this hazardous activity deemed as one of the worst forms of child labor.

Selected as Tobacco Story of the Year was Ian Ocampo Flora’s “Potential of Tobacco Industry in Central Luzon,” which appeared in Sun Star Pampanga.

The article chronicles the historical beginnings of tobacco cultivation in Central Luzon and its eventual establishment as one of the vital industries that shaped the region’s and the country’s economy. Dwelling on the economic and social impact of tobacco in Central Luzon, the article juxtaposes these with the vibrant prospects for tobacco cultivation — if re-introduced as an industry in the region. Also discussed are the numerous development possibilities for tobacco as a major component for fertilizer, paper production and fish cultivation.

The Agriculture Photo of the Year was David Chan Leprozo’s “Bumper Crop,” which appeared in Manila Standard Today. Its subject is a trader in La Trinidad, Benguet’s vegetable trading post, shown sorting out freshly harvested broccoli.

The Tobacco Photo of the Year was Frank Cimatu’s “In a Field of Green” — which catches a moment in the life of a farmer caught amidst bright green leaves in a tobacco field.

These were the four major awards for the year, with six others for different agri story genres. Each award comes with a trophy, an iPad, as much as P50,000 in cash prize, and inclusion in a foreign trip to an Asian destination early next year.

These certainly install the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards or BLAJA as arguably the richest among writing competitions in the country. Besides photography, it also covers broadcast journalism by way of radio and television.

The winner for Best Agriculture Radio Program or Segment was Ronde Alicaya of DXCC RMN, Cagayan de Oro, for “Square Foot Urban Gardening: Saving Space, Saving Water, Saving Effort, Saving Earth.” Aired as a special report on the radio program “Straight to the Point,” it featured Kagawad Honorio Cervantes of Brgy. Pagatpat, Cagayan de Oro City, who shares his advocacy on urban gardening using his innovative technique, Square Foot Gardening.

This particular technique has already been proven and tested in the United States. However, Mr. Cervantes modified it for the Philippine setting. He believes that through square foot gardening, concerns on space, food security, water conservation, climate change and food toxicity can be addressed.

The winner for Best Agriculture TV Program or Segment was Karren Verona, producer of Agri Tayo Dito for ABS-CBN Davao. Her “Cateel, Davao Oriental Episode” featured the town of Cateel which was devastated by Typhoon Pablo in 2012. The super typhoon took away the town’s most important source of livelihood, agriculture. This episode revisits the town and discovers how the Cateeleños have recovered from Pablo’ effects and found fresh hope in new agriculture products.

Selected as Best Agriculture News Story, National was “Kalinga Rice Farmers See Better Days with Hybrid Rice Variety” by Rizaldy Comanda for Manila Bulletin. As the Cordilleras’ rice granary, Kalinga endeavors to help the country attain rice sufficiency while still producing the tasty and good-smelling rice variety known as “Tabuk rice.”

The award for the Best Agricultural News Story, Regional went to Hanna Lacsamana’s “Baguio Encouraged to Look at Bamboo’s Several Potentials,” published in Baguio Midland Courier. The story dwells on the possibility of utilizing bamboo, with its many advantages as a mitigating tool in times of calamities or disasters. Awareness and information campaigns spearheaded by the Philippine Bamboo Foundation, Inc. have been gaining headway with the willingness of the city government to explore bamboo’s potentials for reducing disaster risks.

The award for Best Agriculture Feature Story, National went to Anselmo Roque’s “Saving Rice Varieties: One grain at a time,” published in Philippine Daily Inquirer. It relates the efforts of scientists at the Philippine Rice Research Institute to conserve traditional rice varieties, even those not being used anymore, through the “PhilRice Genebank” composed of the duplicated Philippine rice varieties at IRRI and from its own collection efforts. These seeds are “rejuvenated” or grown and stored again every five years. Data have been stored for over 7,000 varieties, with 13,000 varieties still to be processed.

The award for Best Agriculture Feature Story, Regional went to Henrylito Tacio of Edge Davao for “Ending Hunger,” a three-part series that discussed food shortage problems and solutions that can be implemented. To address soil erosion, the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in Southern Mindanao has discovered Sloping Agricultural Land Technology. To answer the fish supply shortage, especially in the Davao Gulf, there is properly managed aquaculture. Also detailed is how biotechnology can address climate change, pesticide use and malnutrition.

Finally, the most prestigious prize that is not awarded yearly, the Oriental Leaf Award, was given to Baguio-based Mauricio Victa of Business Mirror, who entered the Bright Leaf Awards Hall of Fame by winning five awards since 2008 and through 2014, with three of these for Tobacco Photo of the Year (2011, 2012 and 2013), plus Agriculture Photo of the Year (2008) and Tobacco Story of the Year in 2012 for his article “Tobacco Industry Under Siege.”

The judges this year included Regina Abuyuan, Jose Enrique Soriano, Joel Pablo Salud, Isabelita Reyes, Francis Abraham, Ces Drilon, J. Albert Gamboa, Jay Directo, Conrado Banal, this writer, and Niñez Cacho-Olivares as chairperson.

Emcee for the awarding program was Bianca Valerio, with entertainment provided by singers Bituin Escalante and Morisette, as well as the Daloy Dance Company.

The guest speaker was Dr. Anthony Abad, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila Law School and Harvard School of Government, and currently managing director of T A Trade Advisory Services, a firm that specializes in international trade law and providing technical assistance on matters of international trade policy regulation, competition law and policy, and good governance. An independent policy adviser to the Secretary of Agriculture and to the Philippine Senate, he also hosts the program “Political Capital” on Bloomberg TV Philippines.

Dr. Abad spoke briefly on the merits of integration, competition, and innovation, with one leading to the other. The flood of regional trade arrangements that are either feared or loathed, he said, should result in integration of business — a self-fulfilling prophecy that should not be driven by government but by human endeavor. One can’t dance around integration, as it leads to competition, virtually the law of supply and demand, which in turn leads to innovation, and finally, equilibrium.

For his part, PMFTC, Inc. president Roman Militsyn of Russia, until recently based in Peru and who’s only been in the country for barely three months, expressed his admiration for PMFTC’s efforts to gain more awareness of BLAJA by way of the roadshow tours conducted by PMFTC communications manager Didet Danguilan, who traveled all over the archipelago to initiate workshops and seminars.

Interested parties from Olango Island had to cross over by ferry to Cebu, while residents of Capiz had to take an 80-kilometer bus ride to join the seminar conducted in Boracay. An important feature of the roadshow was the involvement of previous BLAJA winners who were asked to share their experiences with and inspire the seminar participants.

Indeed, tradition is continually being built and strengthened with PMFTC Inc.’s efforts in drawing ever-increasing participation in the annual competition. By next year, BLAJA reaches the milestone of a decade — of encouraging agriculture journalists to help out in addressing regional and national issues, all as a vital part of nation-building.

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