Farming and Science, as proven by 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Romulo Davide, are not mutually exclusive. His Farmer-Scientist Training Program has taught local farmers how to do experiments, discover effective techniques, increase production, and manage the market for their produce. From its humble beginnings in Cebu, Dr. Davide’s program has been implemented nationwide. Now, farmers can claim that they, too, are indeed scientists.
Using plastic bottles filled with water, coconut midribs and cotton strings, Elnard Ymbal of San Juan, Siquijor, thought up and designed a drip irrigation technology for his small 800 square meter vegetable garden and made about 8,000 pesos from its yield. While this irrigation method is used in Israel, Australia and other countries, the fact that Ymbal imagined and made it himself, his award from UPLB as an Outstanding Farmer-Scientist last April 2011 was well-deserved.
Cirila Cuyacot from Barangay Imelda, Ubay, Bohol, discovered that sea water is an ideal fertilizer for her peanut plants. Not only did this discovery open a new field of research studies, it also increased her peanut yield by 50% and brought in an annual income of more than 100,000 pesos. She still conducts studies on the volume and rate of application of sea water. Cuyacot was also honored by the UPLB as an Outstanding Farmer-Scientist.
The ingenuity of Ymbal and Cuyacot, are just two of the many inspiring stories that have come out from farming communities where the Farmer-Scientist Training Program (FSTP) is in operation. The FSTP, an agricultural research, development and extension (RDE) strategy that aims to bring science and scientific methods of farming to farmers is the brainchild of Academician Professor Dr. Romulo G. Davide, one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Davide grew up with an appreciation of the land and its bounties. As a young boy he worked in the farm fields of Colawin, a small village in the mountains of Argao, Cebu where he grew up.
The erstwhile farmhand could predict, successfully, most of the time, what to expect following the clockwork change of seasons. With each seed carrying a promise of a good harvest, Davide also knew the best time for planting the various crops in the farms where he worked. And when the seeds do not deliver on their promise, he commiserates with the Argao farmers in their frustrations.
He recalls the words of his father, “There is no such thing as barren soil, only barren minds,” because Davide knew in his heart that had the farmers been privileged with a good education, or had access to valuable information, they would be able to do better and escape from their poverty. He saw the importance of knowledge and how this has empowered his parents, both public school teachers, to improve their family’s social station. He swore to himself that he would learn agriculture and hopefully one day come back and impart knowledge gained from his studies to the farmers of Argao.
Dr. Davide worked his way through college as a student laborer. He obtained his BS Agriculture degree in 1957 from the College of Agriculture in UP Los Baños. He pursued a M.Sc. in Plant Pathology from Oklahoma State University which was followed by a PhD in Nematology-Plant Pathology from North Carolina State University.
In 1966, he assumed the post of Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology at the UP Los Baños and dedicated 16 years of his life studying Philippine plant parasitic nematodes. He is referred to as the “Father of Plant Nematology” by his colleagues in recognition of his more than a hundred scientific papers on studies that have been published in scientific journals here and abroad. His book on “Studies on Nematodes Affecting Bananas in the Philippines” remains the foremost reference for scientists and employees of the world’s biggest banana producers.
Davide developed BIOACT, the first Philippine biological control agent that has been proven effective against nematode pests attacking vegetables, banana, potato, citrus, pineapple, rice and other crops. A smart and practical substitute for highly toxic and expensive chemical nematicides, the product has been sold in the country as well as in Australia and Germany. The BIOACT market has an estimated value of over US$85 billion. Sadly the university’s naive attitude toward patent laws practically gave the technology away. It is now patented in other territories, with the university having no patent rights to benefit the inventor and the university. The UPLB now has a pending agreement that would finally allow royalties to be paid to the university.
Dr. Davide who was never driven by the promise of fame and fortune, just continued to do good science and went on to discover nine other economically important nematodes that could be controlled by BIOACT.
In 1994, Davide launched the Farmer-Scientists Training Program (FSTP) in his native Colawin, funded by the Php500,000 grant that he received as part of his 1994 Gawad Saka Outstanding Agricultural Scientist Award. FSTP was an innovative and interactive program for “farmer-scientists” who are taught how to do experiments, discover effective techniques, increase production, and manage the market for their produce. He saw this as the opportunity to make good on his promise to bring back and share with the farmers of Argao important knowledge gained through his years of study and research.
He trained the farmers to adopt a scientific approach to farming – starting with choosing the variety of crops that best suit their land. Farmers learned about new high-yielding varieties of crops that increased the production by more than 100 percent.
They also learned about better organic fertilizers such as chicken manure and vermi-compost that were more eco-friendly, effective, and cheaper than chemical-based fertilizers. This resulted in savings of more than 50 percent in production costs.
Davide taught the farmers the technology of intercropping and integration with animal production to maximize farm productivity. Selected farmers were trained at the College of Agriculture in Los Banos and graduates went back home as volunteer technicians, teaching other farmers what they learned. They also established cooperatives and associations so they can organize themselves to work together.
Impressed by the results of the program, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia gave it her support and had Dr. Davide lead it for six years on a one peso-a-year consultant’s fee.
The program has been recognized as having contributed in a big way to lifting Argao from a 5th class to a 1st class municipality in 2006 where farmers’ family incomes have soared from P 5,000/10,000 to P 100,000. Internal Revenue allotment rose from 18.72 million pesos in 1996, to 51.5 million in 2006 and to around 70 million in 2009.
From 74 farmers in Colawin, FSTP expanded to 35 towns in Cebu and six other provinces by 2007. The next year, the DA and the UPLB adopted the concept into a nationwide program that Davide headed. The FSTP is now practiced in 20 provinces.
The FSTP was so successful that it has been implemented as a National Program since 2008. There are now over 30,000 farmers scattered in Cebu, Siquijor, Negros Oriental, Bohol, San Jose, Oriental Mindoro, and Laak in Compostela Valley Province who have been trained by Dr. Davide and his FSTP team. It is now a joint program of DA, DAR, DENR, DOST, UPLB, CHED, DILG-LGUs and NGOs, with DA-ATI as the lead agency and UPLB as the Center of Management and Operation. Pilot FSTP municipalities are in place in the 10 regions of the country, and a number of our indigenous people are now undergoing FSTP training and are excited to become farmer-scientists.
Davide said that farmers trained under the FSTP have more than doubled their annual income, “building new houses and buying new appliances.” He observes that “farmers who used to walk kilometers for hours can now afford to buy motorbikes or multicabs for faster travel; while the more productive ones could now send their children to college.
Still, he rues, “many of our farmers in upland areas are underproductive, poor and hungry.” Very little science-based information reaches the farmer,” he said, pointing out that farmers are still planting native varieties of corn in the upland areas when better varieties that yield more are already available. “We need more scientists to participate in the transfer of developed technologies to farmers.”
Davide continues to spend most of his time travelling to different provinces around the country to do just that. He believes that the future of Philippine agriculture vis-a-vis science, technology and rural development is “very bright if we transfer technologies to the end-users, the farmers.” He adds that farmers can even adapt to climate change easily if the crop varieties they plant are resistant to drought and tolerant to flooding.
A very modest man, Dr. Romulo Davide prefers not to bask in his achievements. He sees himself as just an instrument of God, and his mission is far from over. His advocacy keeps him going, “Farmers have no right to be poor. And we have no right to keep them poor.” But more than the economic gain, he says the key to what makes this whole program successful is in the value formation component. Dr. Davide recognizes how values are essential in order to provide sustainable improvement in the lives of the farmers.
For his numerous scientific achievements, Dr. Davide has received no less than 47 significant national and international awards and citations. These include the ASEAN Achievement Award for Research and Development from the ASEAN Business Forum in 1993; Recognition Award for Outstanding Contribution to Agricultural Development in Asia from the Asian Agricultural Research Development Fund in 1995; and the Distinguished Award in Agriculture, given by the Gamma Sigma Delta International Society of Agriculture in 2007.
Dr. Davide was elected member of the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines in 2002 and was a member of the Board of Regents, the highest policy-making body of the University of the Philippines from 2005-2009. He is now Professor Emeritus at the UPLB.
The 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award recognizes Dr. Romulo G. Davide’s “steadfast passion in placing the power and discipline of science in the hands of Filipino farmers, who have consequently multiplied their yields, created productive farming communities and rediscovered the dignity of their labor.”