Farmer Exequiel C. Bahalla has been toiling the soil since he was barely 10 years old. He has worked it as a son and still works it as a father. It was a piece of earth that was bound to be his. The three-hectare farm in Bohol tells the story of Bahalla’s life. As a young boy, he had to quit school to help his father work the land. Years later, when he had his own family, the same farm enabled him to send all of his five children through college. “I started helping my father in the fields when I was still in Grade 3,” Bahalla, now 54, recalls. He was not even 10 years old then. He had wanted to be a soldier, but life was tough and all hands were needed in tending the crops. He had to stop schooling. He was able to finish only sixth grade of elementary education. “In the past, we had carabaos and other animals helping us in the farm. Now, we use machinery,” he says .The tipping point for this life-long farmer came in 2002, when he was able to acquire through the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) the three hectares of rice land that his family had been tilling for decades. He obtained the land from some relatives of his wife Teodula, whom he married when he was just 17.
In the 1970s, the young couple planted palay, camote, banana, cassava and vegetables, depending on the season. They also raised livestock. In 1993, when their barangay was clustered with other nearby villages, Bahalla and his fellow farmers formed the Katipunan Multi-purpose Farmers Cooperative. His membership in this group would later become his ticket to learning. “I married early. So, when we got the land we used it to send our children to school and make sure that they finish college,” Bahalla says, “This October, my youngest will be graduating with a degree in hotel and restaurant management.”
Although he himself finished only elementary education, Bahalla has attended so manyseminars on agriculture that other farmers began calling him the “farmer scientist.” He has gone through trainings such as Rice Seed Production and Seed Certification with Post-Harvest Technology, Farmer-led Extension Delivery Planning, Corn Seed Production, and Retooling Course for Rice Seed Production.
Bahalla’s successful farming method has become well-known that even farmers from other barangays come to him for help to improve their harvests. In 2008, he was cited as Magsasaka Siyentista for his contribution to his community. “I tell them that my crops have special elements in the fertilizers I use,” he says. He gives his fellow farmers advice on what fertilizers to use depending on the season. They had seen better harvests because of this. “The harvest of crops using these special elements is bigger. Normally, one hectare would yield 80 to 120 bags of palay but that would increase to around 200 bags, with 40 kilos per bag,” he says.
An assistance program from the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Science and Technology provides Bahalla’s community with potable water. Besides the three hectares of rice land that he acquired through the CARP, Bahalla is now also renting from his neighbours six more hectares of land planted to rice and 600 coconut trees. He can afford the rent with the help of his children who are now professionals. Three of them are now working abroad: the eldest is a nurse in Saudi Arabia while two of her siblings are sailing the world’s oceans like thousands of other dollar-earning Filipino seafarers. Another daughter has decided to stay put and serve their community as a local high school teacher.
“The agrarian reform program has been such a great help for me and my family as it improved our lives,” says Bahalla. He now grows seedlings of high-yielding rice varieties that the provincial government buys for distribution to other municipalities .He also conducts lectures on viable farming techniques. “I have this principle I believe in that in farming, there’s no retirement,” Bahalla says. “I will go on working.” -- With a report from Merly Bantugan, DAR-Bohol