An international award-winning young lady agriculturist is envisioning to make Marinduque an island economy that will benefit especially the poor farmers who are making an average income of P4,000 every 40 days from their one-hectare coconut farms.
The young woman is Cherrie Atilano of Agrea, a non-government organization that is operating for profit. This means that the farmer beneficiaries should make money from their farms and at the same time Agrea will also make money. This strategy will make the operation sustainable and profitable.
Agrea does not only depend on donations from foreign donors. The strategy is to coach the farmers to plant centain crops that Agrea can sell locally as well as abroad at a profit. The company chose Marinduque as a place to operate because it is one of the poorest provinces in the country where a lot of agrarian reform beneficiaries reside. These are the target persons the company wanted to help.
One of the main crops Agrea taught the farmers to produce is turmeric which they intercropped with their coconut trees. Today, there are 60 coconut farmers who are growing turmeric on 60 hectares which Agrea makes into powder for sale to a local pharmaceutical company as well as buyers from India, Europe and elsewhere. The European buyers prefer the turmeric from Agrea because it is of good quality and is also organically grown. Turmeric is well known to possess medicinal attributes.
Today, the turmeric farmers in Marinduque are now making 400 dollars every week or about P2,000 which is much better than the P4,000 every 40 days from their coconut farms. Of course, the coconut farmers still derive some income from their coconut which is supplemented in a big way by the income from turmeric.
The current growers of turmeric have been organized into agro clusters for more convenient management. Aside from turmeric, Agrea has also encouraged some farmers to grow Serpentina, a plant with known medicinal attributes. The leaves are made into powder and is now supplied to a big pharmaceutical laboratory.
Cherrie Atilano’s vision is to make Zero Hunger in Marinduque. This does not mean hunger for food alone. It also means hunger for education and decent life. Another vision is Zero Waste which means that the farm wastes are converted into fertilizer with the use of indigenous microorganisms. Then there is the vision of Zero Insufficiency. Cherrie learned that at present Marinduque imports 91 percent of its rice requirements. However, IRRI and PhilRice confirmed that the province has 4,000 hectares of land suitable for growing rice which could produce more than the local rice requirement.