July 19, 2024

“Uray kasano iti kaadu’t pakaupayan, rigat, ken kumplikasyon iti panagbiag, ibilang tayo dagitoy nga parte amin iti pakagunodan iti panagballigi.”
This is the conviction of Pastor Petronilo T. Cortez, a 66-year-old agrarian reform beneficiary (ARB) who showed how perseverance and consistency can defy the odds to achieve one’s dreams.
Pastor Nilo, a native of Flora, Apayao, is recognized as one of the biggest producers of quality rice in the province. At an early age, he worked with his parents and seven siblings in the farm to provide for and meet their daily needs. He inherited 2.5 hectares of land and continued farming as his source of income.
Pastor Nilo married manang Bernadette and was blessed with four children. His family tried to venture into livestock raising but the income can barely provide for their day-to-day needs. As a result, his children’s schooling had to be delayed.
In 2021, his prayers for help were finally answered. The Department of Agrarian Reform validated their area as one of the Linking Smallholder Farmers to Market and Microfinance (LinkSFarMM) beneficiaries under the Sta. Maria Agriculture Cooperative (SMAC), formerly known as the Lagac-Sta. Maria Irrigators Association. SMAC offers lending, common service facility rentals, and seedling production services.
DAR provides training to SMAC members involved in LinkSFarMM projects, which focuses on the market. The training includes seminars on how the value chain works, using technology for farming, connecting with big buyers, and understanding benchmarking, a new idea for them.
The hardworking couple is tagged as a “power couple” with 100 percent attendance in all agri-enterprise development activities and acknowledged as a role model of other ARBs.
Despite all these, doubts were still cast upon them. Pastor Nilo relays some of the farmers’ sentiments: “Kanayon mi nga problema nga mannalon nangnangruna kanyami nga adda ditoy nasulinek nga luglugar, ado a gastos, nalaka iti panaggatang da ti produkto. Kasano mi ngata nga masubbot dagiti gastos? Ado nga rigat ken bannog…intun-ano ngata nga masubadan dagitoy nga ganuat mi nga mannalon?”
There are some farmers who also doubted the LinkSFarMM and his leadership: “Pastor lang isuna, sasao ni Apo laeng ti pokus na, saan na ammo agtalon ken agiturong ti grupo ti mannalon.” Nonetheless, Pastor Nilo’s conviction did not waiver.
On Aug. 6 to 7, 2021, the Apayao site working group (SWG) conducted a market chain study in Flora. This was a pivotal event that inspired Pastor Nilo and the other members of SMAC.
The SMAC group’s initial efforts to identify and negotiate with potential buyers were confronted with the Covid-19 pandemic and enforced guidelines that limited the group’s mobility. With Pastor Nilo’s leadership, SMAC members strategized and assigned tasks to three sub-groups. The first group was assigned to interview rice retailers. The others interviewed rice wholesalers and service providers.
During this time, the group experienced rejections and frustrations due to standards imposed on rice, traders attempting to purchase the farmer’s produce at a lower price, and unavailability to transport products. The farmers asked themselves, “Is there really hope for us, small farmers? Are the claims of LinkSFarMM real?”
A series of planning sessions were done with the SWG to strategize and encourage SMAC members. The rejection experienced by the farmers greatly affected the morale of the group, but thankfully the power couple was still in high hopes.
One of their members recalled a former DAR employee and a reputable and approachable member of the community who understands the grievances of small farmers. The palay trader commits to buy their products regardless of price fluctuation and gives an incentive of 10 centavos per kilo both to the farmers and SMAC. Never did these smallholder farmers imagine having incentives by just being a member of SMAC. They realize now the importance of market linkage.
SMAC members are beyond grateful to the LinkSFarMM program and what it has done to help them build their success. They now have a stable market for their produce and products.
Also, throughout the journey, the members gained friends and colleagues who shared the same goals, aspirations, and dreams building a community of support and encouragement.
“No number of failures can take down a person possessing an immense spirit of positivity,” Pastor Nilo said.
The power couple remained optimistic and patient in spite of the hardships and sacrifices, and selflessly gave their heart and all in whatever they did for their family and municipality.
Their aspirations were not just limited to the bounds of their home but included their whole community. The couple made sure that both or if not, at least one of them is present during LinkSFarMM activities.
Their involvement with the project gives them a sense of fulfillment. Their family was able to obtain a small parcel of land next to their own where they started planting fruit-bearing crops. Moreover, their income increased which allowed them to finally send their children to school.
He and his family’s life story is a testament that people can change the course of their lives and succeed when they trust in God, take advantage of every opportunity, and continue to persevere. – with Romeo G. Roque, Jr. and Jomeno L. Gamotlong