Features

Planting Seeds of Hope in the Countryside: A Woman's Journey through Decades of Public Service

  • Written by  Ailene M. Florece
  • Published in Features
Planting Seeds of Hope in the Countryside: A Woman's Journey through Decades of Public Service © FSTP

It was in 2017 that she was recognized as UPLB’s Outstanding Extension Personnel for her work and involvement in the highly-awarded Farmer-Scientist Training Program (FSTP) of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Romulo G. Davide. But Ms. Guillerma Z. Valencia, better known as Guilly, has been doing extension and public service projects under UPLB for around 38 years already.

She has been working as one of the core staff of FSTP for more than a decade; but prior to this, she had been involved in several rural development extension programs under the then College of Agriculture (CA). Ms. Guilly’s experiences as an extension personnel at UPLB reflect the changes, challenges, and characteristics inherent to the university’s innate and distinctive brand of public service.

Born in Kidapawan, Cotabato in 1957, Ms. Guilly grew up with an interest in anything concerning food. Although she never got into farming herself despite having both parents as farmers, she finished a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Home Economics at the University of Southern Mindanao. She didn’t actively plan in becoming an extension worker prior to joining UPLB in 1979. It just so happened that during her time, college graduates of Agricultural Home Economics usually end up working as extension personnel in local government units or agencies.

And she also didn’t plan working at UPLB. It so happened that an uncle, employed in UPLB, convinced her to move to Los Baños and work for the university. Given an opportunity to work in ‘Manila’ or in the ‘city’ (as folks from the provinces would coin any place near the capital as ‘Manila’ in the past), Ms. Guilly packed her bags and moved right after graduating college.

Her first extension work was in an action research project on consumer preference based at the UPLB College of Development and Economics and Management (CDEM). The action research project was part of the Countryside Action Program (CAP), a multidisciplinary program lodged in the different colleges and units of UPLB and led by CA under the administration of Dean Cledualdo B. Perez from 1974 to 1984.

Afterwards, under the leadership of Dean Ruben L. Villareal (1985-1993), all project staff under the CAP, including Ms. Guilly, housed under the different colleges were moved to the CA Dean’s Office. A new extension program was created, the Agricultural Development Program for the Countryside (ADPC), a national extension program funded by the Department of Agriculture (DA), which aimed to help government units in agricultural development after the devolution of extension function from DA because of the Local Government Code of 1991.

This extension program was not only focused in agriculture but also covered different sectors and aspects of barangay life, such as health and infrastructure. Program activities also include helping communities link with funding agencies by training them in technical and management skills such as proposal making. After Villareal’s term, Dean Cecilio R. Arboleda (1993-1999) changed the program into the Agro-Industrial Development Program (AIDP) and included engineering, entrepreneurial and industrial aspects in the extension program, with activities related to livelihood and enterpreneurship.

“In the past, we would be doing research and extension activities. But right now (under FSTP), we are only doing extension work,” Ms. Guilly said during an interview. Her involvement with FSTP started during the time of CA Dean Luis Rey I. Velasco (1999-2002). Around that period, the College of Public Affairs (CPAf), which focal areas include extension education and community development, was newly created, taking with them most of the faculty and staff under CA’s Department of Agricultural Education and Rural Studies (DAERS).

There were more or less five staff left in DAERS. The solution: all technical staff under the CA Dean’s Office were assigned to DAERS, together with some of the major extension programs of the college. It was also around this time that the departments under CA started grouping into clusters, with DAERS being grouped under the Agricultural Systems Cluster (ASC) together with the Farming Systems and Soil Resources Institute. During this time, ASC was implementing AIDP, the Corn Research and Development Program funded by DA-BAR, and the Corn-based FSTP. Being under the same cluster, Ms. Guilly was able to work for FSTP.

Founded and spearheaded by Professor Emeritus Dr. Romulo G. Davide in 1994, FSTP is a 3-phase program that aims to empower farmers by teaching them comprehensive knowledge in agriculture, developing their social and organizational skills, and shaping them to serve as agricultural extension workers in their own communities.

It became a National Program in 2008 and is now being implemented jointly by the DA-Agriculture Training Institute (ATI), the local government units and the UPLB FSTP group. The UPLB FSTP group develops the modules and manual of operations being used in all sites, conducts regional Training of Trainers and site lectures, and monitors all site areas especially during Phase 2 of the program where the farmer-scientist students are conducting their experimental trials.

The FSTP group have visited many far-flung and isolated areas, most of which are from 4th to 5th class municipalities where extension workers are lacking, and they have a lot of stories to tell.

Ms. Guilly had experienced travelling on land, sea, and air for hours; had walked on foot through dirt roads and mountains for more than an hour to get to a farmer’s site; had ridden a habal-habal, a carabao, and been carried around by the locals across flooded rivers; had fallen in one of those murky rivers, stayed wet the whole day and learned to pack everything in extras; and had been a hair’s breath away from being caught in a crossfire between the military and a rebel group.

It doesn’t help that they have scheduled trips almost weekly. “Kung hindi mo mahal ang extension work, hindi mo magugustuhan ang trabaho na tulad ng sa amin,” Ms. Valencia states. Luckily, she has loved her job from the very beginning and finds pride in it whenever her students, the farmer beneficiaries, would tell them how much they have learned from the program and how amazing it was that, despite their lack of educational degree, they were able to become teachers/educators of other farmers in their community.

“We are not expert breeders ourselves,” Ms. Guilly claims though. “But we teach them how to detassle corn.” The topic of corn breeding is usually the most memorable lecture for the farmers, as well as for the FSTP group. “They didn’t know that (detasseling). Before, they don’t touch the (corn) flower because they thought the corn wouldn’t grow. So when we do the exercise for detasseling, the farmers would be worried that the plants wouldn’t bear fruits.”

Ms. Guilly says that the farmers are usually amazed by what they have learned and would start using the knowledge and techniques in their own farm practices. A few of their farmer-scientists even became corn breeders and were able to sell their own seeds in the community. Seeing the farmers’ joy in learning new things, helping them cultivate and earn better, and experiencing their gratitude are some of the most unforgettable experiences for Ms. Guilly. Though FSTP as a program has a lot of strengths, Ms. Guilly shares that the sustainability of the program in the rural areas rely mainly in the willingness and support of the LGUs and/or the farmer associations.

By Phase 3 of the program, the LGU and the farmer-scientist association are given the reins of management to keep the program alive. The farmer-scientists are given the task to teach and help others in the community; while the LGU are tasked to support them. In reality, not all areas succeeded in implementing the program due to lack of support.

However, the FSTP group has managed to spark the interests of farmers to learn more and develop their skills, not only in farming, but also their social and business skills. They helped bring back the farmers’ self-esteem and opened new opportunities for them.

As for Ms. Guilly, she intends to continue her work in the FSTP until the last few years she has left in UPLB. At the moment, she is the oldest among the six core staff of FSTP. She recognizes the need to build up the staff in order for the project to continue serving the rural farmers. “UPLB public service right now is really good. There was a time when we didn’t go directly to serve the farmers. It is better now. If we do not this (extension activities), then the technologies we developed will not reach the people.”

Because of FSTP, the farmers were able to learn and use UPLB products such as BIOTECH ‘s BIO-N and IPB’s OPV seeds, as these materials are being used for the FSTP’s experimental set-ups.

This, in effect, helps endear UPLB in the minds of the farmers as an institution that helps them, an institution they could trust. “They don’t forget that the people who taught them were from UPLB,” Ms. Guilly said.

And that is how you grow seeds that bear fruits in people, through public service. ■

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